What if you knew that the experience of awe could measurably improve your health, would you approach the world differently today?
At the most recent TEDMED, psychologist Jennifer Stellar presented evidence that the experience of a number of positive emotions (joy, pride, contentment and awe) was associated with reduced levels of interleukin – 6 (IL6) a well validated blood measure of inflammation in the body.
But of all of these positive emotions, the one that was most strongly linked to this effect was awe.
As described in the Journal of the American Medical Association –
Awe is such a powerful emotion because it signifies wonder and amazement in the world, and you don’t have to travel abroad or pursue a daring adventure to find it. “In fact, participants report feeling awe about twice a week on average, making it a more common emotion than we might expect,” she said, noting that everyday experiences— glancing up at the stars or watching athletes achieve a seemingly impossible physical feat—can inspire awe.
While researchers don’t entirely know why awe topped the list of emotions as a positive predictor of health, Stellar said she’s certain that her own studies have changed her way of thinking about awe in the world.
“I used to see a walk in nature or a trip to the museum as a luxury I could barely afford in my busy life. Now I see it as essential to my mental and physician health.”
If you are interested in knowing more you could go Project Awe at the University of California, Berkeley.
There are relatively few studies that have examined this emotion, but a recent article suggests that the association between awe and reduced inflammation might explain why it is that exposure to nature seems so consistently associated with better overall health and that this might be why extraordinary nature can have such profound effects on us.
If you are interested in exploring awe there is nothing that comes more readily to mind than the Planet Earth series by David Attenborough.
Positive affect and markers of inflammation: discrete positive emotions predict lower levels of inflammatory cytokines. Emotion [1528-3542] Stellar, Jennifer yr:2015 vol:15 iss:2 pg:129 -33
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