When was the last time you watched a sunset, listened to a stirring piece of music or simply watched children play and felt awe?
The benefits of positive emotions
Recent research from the University of California, Berkeley, reveals some surprising and exciting benefits to physical health when we experience positive emotions, especially that of awe.
Researchers asked ninety four college freshmen at Berkeley to detail how frequently they had experienced both positive and negative emotions, such as inspiration or hostility. The students were then asked to provide samples of saliva, which were analysed for interleukin-6, a molecule associated with inflammation in the body. As inflammation is strongly associated with poor physical health, the research team were hoping to see a link between frequent positive emotions and low levels of interleukin-6. The results demonstrated that students who experienced more positive emotions than their negatively predisposed classmates did indeed have lower levels of interleukin-6.
Next, the team at Berkeley asked 119 students to complete a more detailed questionnaire regarding their typical emotional outlook and how regularly they experienced specific emotions like compassion, contentment, joy, awe, pride, amusement and love. Again, the students were asked to supply a saliva sample and. Positive emotions were associated with lower levels of interleukin-6.
However, the second set of results showed that students who regularly reported experiencing awe had significantly lower levels of interleukin-6 than the other subjects. Awe was the emotion most powerfully correlated with the lowest levels of interleukin-6 found in saliva samples.
Negative emotions have long been associated with a variety of illnesses such as heart disease, depression and cancer. Researchers are increasingly discovering that positive emotions play an important role in maintaining good physical health.
On average, students who participated in the research reported experiencing awe three or more times per week. Berkeley Professor of psychology, Dacher Keltner, the senior author of the study, advises people to seek out awe often. Keltner suggests that everyone’s experience of awe will be different but one common factor all awe inspiring events share is ‘the goose bump test.’
3 tips to experience awe:
We can all benefit from these research findings by seeking to increase our daily experience of awe. Three tips to experience awe:
1. Recall the last few times you experienced awe, where were you, what were you doing, what prompted the emotion of awe?
2. At the beginning of each day, think about where the opportunities to experience awe might present themselves. Are these opportunities readily available throughout your day or will you have to look for opportunities to create awe?
3. Carve out time every day to experience at least one thing that you find awe inspiring.
Want to get involved in the University of California, Berekeley, Project Awe? Find out more here.
It would be great to hear your experiences of what inspires you to feel awe in the comments section.