A link has long been proven between negative moods and ill health. But how do positive moods affect us physiologically?
Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, set out to discover exactly that when they tracked emotions such as compassion, joy, love, and so on versus the levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6)—a secretion which causes inflammation in the body—in the saliva of 119 university students. The researchers found that those who regularly have positive emotions have less IL-6—and they noticed the strongest correlation with one particular emotion.
“There seems to be something about awe,” Dacher Keltner, a psychology professor and the senior author of the study, told the New York Times. “It seems to have a pronounced impact on markers related to inflammation.” Most of us think of awe as something felt rarely—but we may experience it more than we think. The students reported feeling awe three or more times a week. “How great is that?” Keltner said. “Some people feel awe listening to music, others watching a sunset or attending a political rally or seeing kids play.”
But what is awe, exactly? Unusually for an academic, Keltner’s definition was less than rigorous but perfect nonetheless. Suggesting that you seek the feeling out as much as you can, he said that anything that inspires awe will pass “the goosebumps test.”