There are loads of science-backed ways to battle inflammation, from far-reaching tactics like hopping in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, to downing a daily ginger shot, to even trying to change your partner’s sleeping habits. But a new study published by the American Psychological Association in the journal Emotion says it may be as simple as staying 16 shades of positive.
While the power of positivity is no secret (“Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands,” right?), the idea of simply slapping a smile on your face seems dubious. So the study’s researchers examined the importance of the range of 16 positive emotions, namely: enthusiastic, interested, determined, excited, amused, inspired, alert, active, strong, proud, attentive, happy, relaxed, cheerful, at ease, and calm.
People who experienced a wide range of positive emotions (all 16, to be exact) had lower levels of systemic inflammation in their bodies.
The researchers asked 175 middle-aged participants to keep a log of their daily emotional experiences for 30 days. They found that people who experienced a wide range of positive emotions (all 16, to be exact) had lower levels of systemic inflammation in their bodies, and were therefore at lower risk for serious health issues and chronic illnesses like diabetes and heart disease.
“There is growing evidence that inflammatory responses may help explain how emotions get under the skin, so to speak, and contribute to disease susceptibility,” says lead author Anthony Ong, PhD, of Cornell University and Weill Cornell Medical College. “Our findings suggest that having a rich and diverse positive emotional life may benefit health by lower circulating levels of inflammation.”
The key, Ong says is “greater diversity in day-to-day positive emotions.” So while feeling enthusiastic or attentive is good, feeling enthusiastic, interested, determined, excited, amused, and inspired is even better. The more homogenous and monotonous your experiences, the less helpful and healthy they may be.
But it’s worth noting that the diversity of experiences is only beneficial to combatting inflammation when the experiences are positive. So being a Negative Nancy may not cause more inflammation, but it probably won’t do you any favors. And remember that, yes, you can keep your skeptic street cred and experience all 16 emotions in the happiness rainbow—here’s how.