An awesome, proven way to feel better and be healthier
There’s a solid body of research showing that positive emotions such as gratitude are good for us. You may already know that the ‘3 good things’ exercise has been shown in more than a few studies to help most people to feel more positive about themselves (for example, I wrote about it in my Confidence book).
If you haven’t come across the exercise before, the idea is that you simply spend a few minutes at the end of each day writing down 3 good things that happened to you or that you feel grateful for. Experiments have shown that people typically report feeling significantly better about themselves after only doing this for a couple of weeks. And you don’t even have to do it every day. Doing it most days of the week seems to do the trick.
But newer research suggests that experiencing a different emotion may have an even more powerful effect on our health. We know this because of a study conducted by a team of researchers led by Jennifer Stellar at the University of Toronto. The investigators took saliva samples from 94 undergraduate students, analysing their saliva for levels of a molecule by the name of interleukin-6 (IL-6). IL-6 is what’s known as a proinflammatory cytokine.
Inflammation is an important physiological process because it helps the body to cope with short-term infections and injuries. However, chronically high levels of proinflamatory cytokines such as IL-6 may actually slow muscle repair and make the body more predisposed to diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and depression. In other words, high levels of IL-6 are bad. We want low levels most of the time.
So how do we get lower levels of IL-6?
Jennifer Stellar and her team also asked the participants to complete a series of psychological tests measuring their feelings. The participants reported how much they experienced emotions such as joy, compassion, amusement and contentment. But the single most important predictor of low levels of IL-6 was awe.
Here are some of the statements that participants encountered in determining how much awe they felt:
- “I often feel awe.”
- “I see beauty all around me.”
- “I feel wonder almost every day.”
- “I seek out experiences that challenge my understanding of the world.”
Take a look in particular at that final statement. It doesn’t say “I often encounter experiences that challenge my understanding of the world.” It says “I seek out experiences.” In other words, it is an action that some people take rather than a passive experience that happens to come their way.
So if you want to have better physical health (as measured by lower levels of the proinflammatory cytokine IL-6), get out there. Seek out experiences that allow you to see the beauty in the world. Even if it is only for a minute or a few minutes every day, look around you for the amazing, literally awe-inspiring events, animals, experiences and things that surround us on a daily basis.