A new study shows that experiencing a range of positive emotions may help protect your health.
In the study, which publishes on June 22 in the aptly-named journal Emotion, researchers looked at diary data from 175 adults aged 40 to 65 who logged their positive and negative emotions over 30 days. The study participants reported whether they experienced 16 various positive emotions — enthusiastic, interested, determined, excited, amused, inspired, alert, active, strong, proud, attentive, happy, relaxed, cheerful, at ease, calm — over that month-long period.
The researchers then tallied the number of different emotions the study participants reported, along with the number of times they felt those emotions. They found that having a greater diversity in day-to-day positive emotions was associated with lower circulating levels of inflammation — this was independent of mean levels of positive and negative emotions, body mass index, anti-inflammatory medications, medical conditions, personality, and demographics, according to the study. High levels of inflammation have been associated with chronic disease — from type 2 diabetes to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) — as well as an elevated risk of dying prematurely.
“There is growing evidence that inflammatory responses may help to explain how emotions get ‘under the skin’ to influence disease susceptibility,” the study authors noted.
So how, exactly do our moods affect our health? “Researchers are just beginning to explore the notion that the range and variety of emotions that individuals experience — their so called emodiversity — may be conducive to health and well-being,” lead author of the study, Anthony Ong, PhD, professor of human development at Cornell University and Professor of Gerontology in Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, tells Yahoo Beauty.
Although more research is needed to understand the underlying mechanisms of how emotions affect our health, Ong says, “It may be that experiencing a diversity of emotional states, in this case positive emotions, might reduce vulnerability to psychopathology by preventing an overabundance or prolonging of any one emotion from dominating an individuals’ emotional life.”
In other words, variety really is the spice of life — even if you’re already leading a happy one.
This idea of emodiversity was inspired by research in the natural sciences on the benefits of biodiversity — aka the variety and abundance of different types of organisms within an ecosystem, notes Ong. “The idea there is that species serve functional roles for the environment (e.g., as predator, as prey), and that depletion or overabundance of any species has consequences for the functioning and health of the ecosystem,” he explains. “And so we were similarly interested in whether the variety and relative abundance of different types of emotions within an emotional ecosystem might have an effect on human health.”
So why is having a variety of positive emotions versus, say, feeling content overall more beneficial? “There are reasons to suspect having a rich and diverse positive emotional life may be beneficial to health,” says Ong. “Positive emotional experiences that are broad in range and differentiated may guide adaptation by helping people prioritize and regulate behavior in ways that optimize an individual’s adjustment to situational demands.”
Being able to precisely label how you’re feeling — so not just “good,” but “relaxed,” “amused,” or “inspired” — helps people stay in touch with themselves and keeps them more emotionally nimble. “It may reduce the potential for individuals to make misattributions about their own positive affective reactions,” says Ong.
And experiencing a range of positive emotions may boost your coping skills when you do get stressed out. According to the study authors, “emodiversity may act to reduce negative appraisals of stress and facilitate adaptive coping.”
Although Ong says that the real-world implications of the research have yet to be determined, the study does show that finding ways to experience a range of feel-good emotions in your daily life — as compared to just not feeling the negative ones — can be a boon for your health.
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