The awe we feel when enthralled with beauty and wonder—be it in nature, art, or spirituality—may lower levels of chemicals produced by the immune system that play a role in systemic inflammation.
In a study published in the journal Emotion,UC Berkeley researchers asked more than 200 young adults the extent to which they had experienced positive emotions such as awe, compassion, contentment, joy, love, and pride. Samples of fluid from the volunteers’ mouths were taken the same day and tested for levels of the cytokine interleukin-6, which can help the body fight inflammation. (Past research has shown that although certain cytokines help the body fight infection, sustained high levels are linked to diabetes, heart disease, and other serious health problems.)
The people who said they had experienced more positive emotions—particularly awe, wonder, and amazement—had the lowest levels of interleukin-6. “Our findings demonstrate that positive emotions are associated with the markers of good health,” said Jennifer Stellar, lead author of the study.
But she acknowledges the study doesn’t answer the thorny "Which came first?" question. Did the positive feelings lead to low levels of cytokines, or did low levels of cytokines lead to the positive emotions? For that answer, Stellar notes, much more research is needed.
Also see The Benefits of Walking in Nature.