We all know happiness is good for the soul, but is it good for the body too?
This week the media featured a story about the link between emotions and health. Past research has suggested that positive emotions can have anti-inflammatory effects on our bodies. A new study, published in the journal Emotion, looks at which particular emotions play a role and whether the range of emotions experienced matter.
The study looked at 175 middle-aged adults and asked them to log their emotional experiences daily for one month, recording how often and how strongly they experience 32 different emotions, both positive and negative. The types of emotions ranged from enthusiasm, pride, calmness, and inspiration, to distress, irritation, hostility and guilt.
Six months later the scientists tested their blood for inflammation markers, a known risk factor for many illnesses, such as diabetes and heart disease, as well as premature death. They found people who reported a wide range of positive emotions day-to-day have less inflammation than those who reported a smaller range, even if they all experienced positive emotions with the same frequency.
This suggests that it is the range of positive emotions experienced, rather than the frequency, that had the effect on inflammation. This is in keeping with ideas about evolution where diversity is important for health and survival.
Interestingly, this didn’t apply to negative emotions where range and frequency made no difference to inflammation levels.
Anthony Ong, who conducted the study, suggested it may be possible to maximise the benefits seen in this study by doing a daily practise of noticing and categorizing your daily emotions. He writes: “Emotions serve functional roles for individuals, helping them prioritize and regulate behaviour in ways that optimize adjustment to situational demands… When it comes to infusing more diverse positive emotions into our lives, it may turn out to be a simple daily practice of labelling and categorizing positive emotions in discrete terms.”
One way we could all do this is by keeping a daily diary of all the different emotions we experience and try to differentiate from just ‘happiness’ to more specific emotions like amusement, determination, cheerfulness and strength.
There may, of course, be other reasons those with a smaller range of positive emotions had higher inflammation, but this study strengthens the link between many kinds of happiness and better health.
Whether or not emotions play a role in our physical health, we can all benefit from a bit of mindfulness when it comes to our emotions, even just as a way to lower stress levels and feel more in-tune with our feelings.
You can measure your levels of inflammation with a Medichecks HsCRP test. This simple finger prick test checks for chronic low-level inflammation in the body which is a risk factor for heart disease and other chronic illnesses.