A New Study Suggests Being a Free Spirit Has Health Benefits

If you’re among the free spirited, artistic set of young professionals, you could be in luck when it comes to your health.

It turns out that feelings of awe may help prevent disease.

A recent study by the University of California, Berkeley, revealed that positive feelings of awe and wonder might also have a positive effect on your body. That feeling of awe you experience (if you let yourself) when you take in art, nature, and spirituality was shown to produce an anti-inflammatory effect by producing healthy levels of cytokines.

Cytokines – proteins that help the immune system to work harder – are necessary to fight infection, disease, and trauma. But sustained high levels of cytokines are associated with poorer health and ailments like type-2 diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and clinical depression. Of course, this all affects one’s life expectancy.

In two separate experiments, more than 200 young adults reported on a given day the degree to which they experienced positive emotions like 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 fortunate ones who experienced more of these positive emotions, especially awe, wonder, and amazement, had the lowest levels of the cytokine.

In addition to autoimmune diseases, elevated cytokines have also been tied to depression. One recent study found that depressed patients had higher levels of the pro-inflammatory cytokine known as TNF-alpha than their non-depressed counterparts.

The Berkeley findings, then, add happiness to the list of factors that affect our defense against physical and mental illnesses, the others being a healthy diet, sleep, and exercise (not that we had to tell you that).

And being awestruck causes happiness – so dream away, dreamers.  

In the study, “awe is associated with curiosity and a desire to explore,” according to one author, Jennifer Stellar.

It also inspires creativity. So, if you’re able to both appreciate and get lost in moments – whether it means taking in a stunning view or your getting lost in your favourite song – not only will you be healthier, you’ll be happier too. 

So, basically, what this means for you is that you don’t have to feel guilty for fuelling your inner wanderlust and splurging on a vacation. Sights like an incredible sunset, the Sistine Chapel, or storybook waterfall could just give your system a much-needed boost.


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