What if increasing positive emotional experiences also had positive effects on your health? It turns out that they do. A recent study found that people who experience positive and warm emotions also experience better health than those who experience less positive and warm emotions, and that social connections are a key component of this. In the study half the participants were assigned to attend a 6-week course in loving-kindness meditation. In this course participants were taught how to develop and cultivate feelings of love, compassion, and goodwill towards others and themselves. These participants showed a higher vagal tone; the regulation of the heart rate through the vagus nerve. As people increased positive emotional feelings they also reported more social connections, and with these connections, their vagal tone increased. This suggests that when we regulate our emotional state to one of love and compassion, we also engage more with others, which then leads to better health.
Becoming more physically fit doesn’t have to start in the body, in fact we suggest that it start in the heart and mind, and perhaps with a friend. In other recent research, psychologists have linked maintenance of improved physical activity to social support from a close friend or loved one. We all know that there are many health benefits of regular physical activity but that, unfortunately, isn’t motivation enough for many of us to maintain an optimum level of exercise. Using the buddy system is a good indicator of continued commitment to healthy behaviors including regular physical activity. The wise words of late positive psychologist Chris Peterson sing through my ears: “other people matter.”
When it comes to increasing your health, here is what we suggest:
Start your day with a reminder that you are worthy and deserving of love and compassion. This can help increase positive emotions within you. Throughout the day look for opportunities to connect with others, strengthen old friendships and start new ones and put your phone or ipad away. Last, go out and play in the sunshine. Soak in vitamin D and release those endorphins that make us feel happier but don’t forget the sunblock.