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Science Shows How Art and Nature Have Profound Effects on Our Health


The experiences of art, nature, and spirituality, can have a truly profound effect on our actual physicality.  We're starting to see a lot of research emerge which looks at how positive emotions actually manifest themselves in the physical body. So emotions like awe and wonder which commonly arise from experiences like being out in nature, listening to music, seeing a beautiful piece of art or in some way engaging with religion and spirituality that actually cause there to be less inflammation in the body which can help to prevent diseases.


So really, we are seeing that when there are more positive emotions there is less inflammation in the body which can help to prevent diseases.


A study at the University of California was publised in the journal Emotion earlier this year which highlights the science behind these findings.


Citation & Abstract

Positive affect and markers of inflammation: Discrete positive emotions predict lower levels of inflammatory cytokines.


Stellar, Jennifer E.; John-Henderson, Neha; Anderson, Craig L.; Gordon, Amie M.; Galen D.; Keltner, Dacher


Emotion - Vol 15(2), April 2015, 129-133


Negatives emotions are reliably associated with poorer health (e.g. Kiecolt-Glaser, McGuire, Robles, & Glaser 2002), but only recently has research begun to acknowledge the important role of positive enotions for our physical health (Fredrickson 2003). We exame the link between dispositional positive affect and one potential biological patheway between positive emotions and health-proinflammatory cytokines, specifically levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6). We hypothesized that greater trait positive affect would be associated with lower levels of IL-6 in a healthy sample. We found support for this hypothesis across two studies. We also explored the relationship between discrete positive emotions and IL-6 levels, finding that awe, measure in two different ways, was the strongest predictor of lower levels of proinflammatory cytokines. These effects held when controlling for relevant personality and health variables. This work suggest a potential biological pathway between positive and emotions through proinflammatory cytokines. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2015 APA, all rights reserved).


“That awe, wonder and beauty promote healthier levels of cytokines suggests that the things we do to experience these emotions -– a walk in nature, losing oneself in music, beholding art -– have a direct influence upon health and life expectancy,” Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner, a co-author of the study, said in a press release.


Basically to test the effects of awe on a persons physical health, the team at Berkely headed by Keltner asked two separate study groups of young men and women how much they experienced emotions of positivity such as awe, love, compassion, joy, pride on a given day. The researchers then took samples of their gum and cheek tissue to check their cytokine levels. The test results from both groups showed that those who experienced awe and wonder on that day had lower levels of cytokines and therefore less inflammation, in their bodies.


Of all the experiences one can have it’s widely thought that being in nature can have the most awe-inspiring effect on the human body in terms of stress relief.


I think that evidence is mounting that the mind and body are not separate, our emotional lives are not separate from our physical lives and so it’s essential we nurture these positive emotions. The science is undeniable. It’s not just going to be experiences of nature and spirituality it’s also mindfulness and connection with others that can stimulate these positive emotions.


Essentially what it comes down to is quite simply that positive emotions equal to positive health. I think that most people already knew this but now that it’s backed by science maybe society can put more focus on encouraging experiences of awe.


I personally would love to see more emphasis on being positive put into our educational systems. With mounting mental health problems plaguing society I think if we can target our children at a young age and almost train their minds to want to experience things like wonder, awe and amazement then we will go a long way to creating a healthier future for the coming generations.

Kasim Khan, Team Spirit