No Kidding, Can Feelings of Awe & Wonder Really Lower Inflammation?
I just read an article in Spirituality & Health by Traci Pedersen. She reports on recent research out of UC Berkeley showing that immersion in the beauty of nature, art and/or spirituality – in other words, becoming awestruck or bowled over by a sense of wonder - is associated with lower levels of inflammatory cytokines.
Cytokines are proteins that prod the immune system to crank it up a notch, which is generally a good thing, especially for dispatching infections or cancer. But we also know that chronic inflammation from an overproduction of cytokines can wreak cumulative havoc on health and longevity.
So, this study of 200 subjects suggests it wouldn't be a bad idea to deliberately seek out activities that catalyze your feelings of awe.
By focusing our attention on experiences that generate a sense of wonder (a walk in the woods or by the ocean, prayer, immersion in music, listening to guided imagery, childbirth, taking in a magnificent work of art or the arts, feeling profound love for another, or just checking out the amazing video of the helical motion of our solar system on our Inspiring Story page this week.
The 200 young adults in the study were asked to quantify the extent to which they'd experienced positive emotions during one day (for instance, amusement, compassion, contentment, joy, awe, love and pride. On that same day, researchers swabbed their mouths. The subjects who experienced greater awe, amazement and wonder had the lowest levels of a heavy-hitter inflammation marker called cytokine interleukin 6,.
It's not clear if having lower cytokines makes people feel more awe, or if feeling awe creates lower cytokines. It may be both. But whatever came first, the correlation is there and it's significant.
So go forth and get awestruck!