If I asked you
what emotions psychologists have spent most of their time study in,
would you be surprised
生气 恐惧 焦虑或是悲伤 你会不会感到惊讶
if the answer was anger, fear, anxiety or sadness?
Well, it surprised me.
Now, don’t get me wrong.
This research is incredibly important.
But focusing so heavily on our negative emotions
portrays very one-sided image of the human experience
that fails to capture its beauty and its resilience.
We feel such a wide variety of positive emotions,
像同情 喜悦 爱和敬畏
like compassion, joy, love and awe.
In fact, in our everyday lives we experience these positive emotions
three times as often as negative emotions.
Now I’m happy to report that a new generation of researchers, myself included,
are starting to focus on the impact of positive emotions
for outcomes like health, relationship quality and well-being.
And it turns out that across every domain of measurement
the positive emotions are revealing themselves to have a profound effect.
Let me tell you about two studies my colleagues and I have done.
They both focus on one potential biological pathway
between positive emotions and physical health.
At the center of this work are some important markers of immune functioning
called proinflammatory cytokines.
These proteins are called the regulators of the immune system.
And they actively promote inflammation in the body in response to
infection, illness or injury.
Now they may be small in size
but I can assure you that their impact is dramatic.
They give rise to acute symptoms like fever, fatigue and even pain.
And over time when chronically elevated,
they have harmful effects for health,
contributing to diabetes, cardiovascular disease and depression.
Now there are many different types of proinflammatory cytokines.
So in our work we chose to focus on one called
interleukin 6, or IL 6 for short.
Thanks to scientific advances we can now measure IL 6
relatively cheaply and easily in the lab by collecting a person’s saliva.
Our idea was that people who experience more positive emotions
would have lower levels of IL 6 circulating in their body.
Why did we think this?
Well certain negative emotions have been associated with increases in IL 6.
So we thought perhaps positive emotions would have the opposite effect,
leading to lower levels of this damaging biomarker.
So in two studies we had students come into the lab,
and we measured how much positive emotion they felt in the past month.
Then we collected sample saliva in order to measure IL 6.
It turns out that our hypothesis was correct.
Positive emotions predicted lower levels of proinflammatory cytokines in our student population.
So next we asked:” Are certain positive emotions
better predictors of lower levels of IL 6 than others?”
So in an additional study we had participants fill out a survey
that was designed to measure the frequency and intensity
with which people experience seven specific positive emotions,
分别有欢愉 敬畏 满足 同情 自豪 爱和快乐
amusement, awe, contentment, compassion, pride, love and joy.
Not only did we replicate our original findings
that positive emotions predicted lower levels of proinflammatory cytokines,
we also found that four specific positive emotions
were particularly good predictors of lower levels of IL 6.
这些情绪是喜悦 自豪 满足和敬畏
Those emotions were joy, pride, contentment and awe.
and their predictive value was significant.
Interestingly the emotion of awe
had the strongest negative relationship to levels of IL 6,
even when we controlled for the other six positive emotions,
even when we took the relevant personality measures into account.
and even when we used another measure
that asked participants how much awe, wonder and amazement they felt
the day they came into the lab.
So let’s talk a little bit about awe.
Awe’s a powerful and transformative emotion.
It’s inspired great works of art
incited religious movements
and generated philosophical musing about the sublime.
But despite this impressive resume,
only very recently have we begun to study this emotion in psychology.
So what is awe?
I define it by its synonyms.
wonder and amazement, and by its psychological experience.
We feel awe when we encounter something vast and grande
that challenges our world view.
It makes us feel small in the presence of something bigger than ourselves
and connected with others around us.
Now you may be thinking that you have to travel
to remote places in order to experience this emotion,
but I can tell you that that’s not the case.
In fact, participants report feeling awe about twice a week on average,
making it a more common emotion than you might expect.
We feel awe when we hear beautiful music,
when we look up at the night sky and see the stars,
or when we watch athletes achieve feats that we thought were beyond reality.
So here’s the question:
why would awe be a better predictor of good health than other positive emotions?
We don’t yet know.
It may be because awe’s particular protein at reducing stress
or increasing feelings of social connection.
It may be because awe generates a desire
to engage or explore the world around us.
Recent work suggests that awe promotes greater
humility, prosociality and well-being.
And all of these things could impact physical health.
What I do know is that these findings have changed
how I think about awe in my own life.
I used to see a walk in nature or
a trip to the museum as a luxury
that I could rarely afford in my busy life.
Now I see these experiences as
essential to my mental and physical health.
And as a field, we psychologists are changing
how we think about positive emotions.
We now recognize that they aren’t simply
the absence of negative emotions,
but that they’re colorful and varied in their own right.
And that specific positive emotions like awe
might hold important benefits for things like physical health.
Now we still have a lot to learn about the emotion of awe.
But it’s fascinating to think that in seeking out
the beauty and the mystery and the vastness
that our world has to offer
that we might actually find a key
to our own physical health