Can positive emotions help protect your health?

At the start of April I wrote this post about whether or not the grass is really greener on the other side of the fence. It’s really easy to look at other people’s lives and think that they have it so much better than we do, or that we would be so much happier if we only had that thing, or lost that weight.

What we need to be doing is focusing our attention on all the good things we already have.  What you focus on expands, so if you put your energy into noticing all the good things in your life, then more good things will come along!  And it seems that paying attention to the beautiful things in the world around us can also help protect our health.

All of which makes me even more determined to spend time noticing and appreciating all the good things around me!  I’m still posting under #mygrassisgreen on Facebook and Twitter for the rest of the month – I’d love to see other people use that hashtag if you want to join in!

I also think that, as parents, we have a fantastic opportunity to experience these positive emotions, including awe, on a regular basis.  All we need to do is stop, get down on our children’s level and try to see the world through their eyes.  The whole world is new, exciting and awe-inspiring to young children.  We just need to reconnect with that way of looking at things!

So this Spring and Summer I’m planning on being even more mindful when I’m out with my children, taking time as we walk round the park to stop and admire all the beautiful flowers and all the other wonders nature has to offer.

It’s good for our health after all!

A recent study by Stellar et al. has found that positive emotions like amusement, joy, love and, especially, awe are linked to lower levels of inflammatory cytokines.  I have to be honest here, when I first read about the study I didn’t know what inflammatory cytokines were but from what the internet tells me they’re proteins in the body that “make disease worse by producing fever, inflammation, tissue destruction and in some cases even shock and death”.

The study asked 200 people to report their emotions and took a swab from their cheeks to measure their levels of these cytokines.  Those who reported feeling positive emotions such as amusement, joy, love and awe were found to have lower levels of inflammatory cytokines; with awe having a particularly strong association.

It seems that looking at the world from a perspective of curiosity and wonder can help to protect us from physical and mental illnesses such as depression, which is shown to be linked to higher levels of inflammatory cytokines.

Dr Dacher Keltner, one of the study’s authors, said:

“That awe, wonder and beauty promote healthier levels of cytokines suggests that the things we do to experience these emotions — a walk in nature, losing oneself in music, beholding art — have a direct influence upon health and life expectancy.”

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