A new study shows that experiencing a range of positive emotions may help protect yourhealth.
In the study, to be publishedÂ on June 22 in the aptly named journal Emotion, researchers looked at diary data from 175 adults 40 to 65 who logged their positive and negative emotions over 30 days. The study participants reported whether they experienced 16 various positive emotions â€” enthusiastic, interested, determined, excited, amused, inspired, alert, active, strong, proud, attentive, happy, relaxed, cheerful, at ease, calm â€” 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 from type 2 diabetes to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), as well as an elevated risk of dying prematurely. This was independent of mean levels of the following: positive and negative emotions, body mass index, anti-inflammatory medications, medical conditions, personality, and demographics, according to the study.Â High levels of inflammation have been associated with chronic disease.
â€œThere is growing evidence that inflammatory responses may help to explain how emotions get â€˜under the skinâ€™ to influence disease susceptibility,â€ the authors noted.
So how, exactly, do our moods affect our health?
â€œResearchers are just beginning to explore the notion thatÂ the range and variety of emotions that individuals experience â€” their so-calledÂ emodiversity â€” may be conducive to health and well-being,â€ Anthony Ong, lead author of the study and professorÂ of human development at Cornell University, tells Yahoo Beauty.
Although more research is needed to understand the underlying mechanisms of how emotions affect our health, Ong says, â€œIt may be thatÂ 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 individualâ€™s emotional life.â€
In other words, variety really is the spice of life â€” even if youâ€™re already leading a happy one.
This idea of emodiversity was inspired by research in the natural sciences on the benefits of biodiversity â€” aka the variety and abundance of different types of organisms within an ecosystem, notes Ong. â€œThe 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,â€ he explains. â€œAnd 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.â€
Why wouldÂ having a variety of positive emotions versus, say, feeling content overall be more beneficial? â€œThere are reasons to suspect having a rich and diverse positive emotional life may be beneficial to health,â€ says Ong. â€œPositive emotional experiences that are broad in range and differentiated may guide adaptation by helping people prioritize and regulate behavior in ways that optimize an individualâ€™s adjustment to situational demands.â€
Being able to precisely label how youâ€™re feeling â€” not just â€œgood,â€ but â€œrelaxed,â€ â€œamused,â€ or â€œinspiredâ€ â€” helps people stay in touch with themselves and keeps them more emotionally nimble. â€œIt may reduce the potential for individuals to make misattributions about their own positive affective reactions,â€ says Ong.
And experiencing a range of positive emotions may boost your coping skills when you do getÂ stressed out. According to the study authors, â€œemodiversity may act to reduce negative appraisals of stress and facilitate adaptive coping.â€
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 â€” as compared to just not feeling the negative ones â€” can be a boon for your health.