A new study on the beneficial effects of positive emotion on physical health has been popping up all over my newsfeed this week. On the Greater Good Science Center blog, Yasmin Anwar writes;
“Researchers have linked positive emotions—especially the awe we feel when touched by the beauty of nature, art, and spirituality—with lower levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which are proteins that signal the immune system to work harder.
While cytokines are necessary to fighting off disease and infection, continuously elevated levels have been linked with chronic inflammation and a whole host of attending disorders such as heart disease, type-2 diabetes, clinical depression and Alzheimer’s disease to name few.
“In two separate experiments, more than 200 young adults reported on a given day the extent to which they had experienced such positive emotions as amusement, awe, compassion, contentment, joy, love and pride. Samples of gum and cheek tissue, known as oral mucosal transudate, taken that same day showed that those who experienced more of these positive emotions, especially awe, wonder and amazement, had the lowest levels of the cytokine, Interleukin 6, a marker of inflammation.” (Can Awe Boost Health?)
While the exact relationship between levels of cytokines and the frequency at which individuals are able to experience awe remains unclear, on the Science of Us blog, Melissa Dahl quotes the study’s lead author, Jennifer Stellar explaining why cytokine levels function as good predictors of one’s ability to experience positive emotion:
“One reason is that proinflammatory cytokines encourage social withdrawal and reduce exploration, which would serve the adaptive purpose of helping an individual recover from injury or sickness. … [A]we is associated with curiosity and a desire to explore, suggesting antithetical behavioral responses to those found during inflammation.”
One prompt for cultivating more awe in one’s life then, would be to be more intentional about fostering our desire to explore and connect with those around us and our environments. One of the best ways to do just that, which we are all naturally very good at, (or at least were at some point in our lives) is through play. Sadly, for many of us, play is something that gets pushed to the background as we age and we wake up one day worrying we’d look silly or be wasting our time should we engage in play activities. I was happy to come across two resources this week that each addressed this point and showed the importance and benefits of engaging in play as adults. So if better health isn’t motivation enough, check out the two resources below to learn about how play and more generally, being open to the moment, the environment and those around you, comes with a host of social, professional and cognitive benefits.
Patrick Allan details The Surprising Benefits of Role-Playing Games (and How to Get Started) over on Lifehacker. Meanwhile, in the TEDx talk below, Paul Jackson, founder of the Applied Improvisation Network looks at how improvisation skills are in fact life skills which are relevant to everyone– individuals and organizations alike:
“One of the areas that they’re taking [applied improvisation] into now is in business schools. Improvisation is on the agenda of more than half of the top twenty business schools around the world. Leaders are coming to learn skills for the future to build and create new types of organizations in which “yes…and” can be a core part. They learn for example the importance of collaborating with each other and with their colleagues and how to deal with uncertainty and being more confident in a world of complexity and constant change; and these are skills that are available and useful to us all.”
“You have two choices in life: you can say no and be rewarded with safety; or you can say yes and be rewarded with adventure.”