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A Sense of Wonder May Do Wonders for Your Health

by Beth on March 25th, 2015

Barnes FoundationOn a recent trip to Philadelphia, I visited the Barnes Foundation, which has an impressive collection of Post-Impressionist and early Modern paintings. I was awed by the wonderful paintings I saw and by the sheer number of pieces that some of the artists had painted. There are 181 paintings by Renoir, 69 by Cézanne, 59 by Matisse, and 46 by Picasso in the Barnes collection alone.

At the time, I thought I was just spending an enjoyable morning at a museum. What I didn’t realize was that I might also be improving my health. A recent study by researchers at UC Berkeley has linked positive emotions, especially awe, to lower levels of cytokines. Cytokines are proteins that help our body fight infection. But high sustained levels of cytokines cause inflammation, which increases the likelihood of developing type-2 diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and clinical depression.

So finding ways to experience more awe in your life can be good for your health. You might find a sense of wonder from the beauty of nature, or listening to music, or looking at art, or reading about or witnessing an inspiring act. Awe is the feeling of being in the presence of something that transcends your understanding of the world. It is associated with curiosity, so go out and explore this amazing world to see what you can find.

I am particularly excited about this research because there is one place where I most often experience a sense of awe: the beach. The vastness of the ocean and the mesmerizing crash of incoming waves keep me in a constant state of wonder. I am thrilled that I now have scientific evidence that trips to the beach are good for my health!

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