Researchers have linked positive emotions — especially the awe we feel when touched by the beauty of nature, art and spirituality — with lower levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which are proteins that signal the immune system to work harder.

Now there is more evidence that being grateful for feelings of awe and wonder may give a boost to the body’s defense system, according to new research from UC Berkeley.(1)

“Our findings demonstrate that positive emotions are associated with the markers of good health,” said Jennifer Stellar, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Toronto and lead author of the study, which she conducted while at UC Berkeley.

While cytokines are necessary for herding cells to the body’s battlegrounds to fight infection, disease and trauma, sustained high levels of cytokines are associated with poorer health and such disorders as type-2 diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and even Alzheimer’s disease and clinical depression.

It has long been established that a healthy diet and lots of sleep and exercise bolster the body’s defenses against physical and mental illnesses. But the Berkeley study, whose findings were just published in the journal Emotion, is one of the first to look at the role of positive emotions in that arsenal.

“That awe, wonder and beauty promote healthier levels of cytokines suggests that the things we do to experience these emotions — a walk in nature, losing oneself in music or art — has a direct influence upon health and life expectancy,” said co-author UC Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner.

In two separate experiments, more than 200 young adults reported on a given day the extent to which they had experienced such positive emotions as amusement, awe, compassion, contentment, joy, love and pride. Samples of gum and cheek tissue, known as oral mucosal transudate, taken that same day showed that those who experienced more of these positive emotions, especially awe, wonder and amazement, had the lowest levels of the cytokine, Interleukin 6, a marker of inflammation.

In addition to autoimmune diseases, elevated cytokines have been tied to depression. One recent study found that depressed patients had higher levels of the pro-inflammatory cytokine known as TNF-alpha than their non-depressed counterparts. It is believed that by signaling the brain to produce inflammatory molecules, cytokines can block key hormones and neurotransmitters — such as serotonin and dopamine — that control moods, appetite, sleep and memory.

In answer to why a spiritual emotion like awe would be a potent predictor of reduced pro-inflammatory cytokines, this latest study posits that “awe is associated with curiosity and a desire to explore, suggesting antithetical behavioral responses to those found during inflammation, where individuals typically withdraw from others in their environment,” Stellar said.

Or as our rabbis taught: everyone should seek to say one hundred blessings a day, for people who feel grateful to experience the awesomeness of nature and the wonderful aspects of their own lives will find they have both holier and healthier lives.

Our rabbis wanted to influence people to think positively about their lives by teaching them the importance of saying blessings for the many things they experience, both in their ordinary daily and weekly life, and at occasional extraordinary times.

Thus it is a Mitsvah to say blessings at every meal over food and drink. Every morning when we awake it is a Mitsvah to say several blessings because various parts of our mind and body still work.

During daily prayer there are 18 blessings, and there are blessings for the weekly celebration of the Sabbath.

Their are also blessings to say for special occasions for the rabbis urged us to thank God for as many blessings as we can, since the more blessings you can say, the more blessed you are.

There is a blessing for seeing a non-Jewish sage, and another one for seeing a Jewish sage. Their is a blessing for hearing good news and another one for hearing bad news, in accordance with Rabbi Huna’s view that we need both joy and suffering to realize that life is ‘very good’. Here are a few examples of blessings for special occasions:

On beholding fragrant trees: Praised be Adonai our God, Ruler of space and time, creator of fragrant trees.

On seeing trees in blossom: Praised be Adonai our God, Ruler of space and time, whose world lacks nothing we need, who has fashioned goodly creatures and lovely trees that enchant the heart.

On seeing an unusual looking person: Praised be Adonai our God, Ruler of space and time, who makes every person unique.

On the Divine value of pluralism and human variety when seeing a large number of people: Praised be Adonai our God, Ruler of space and time, the Sage of enigmas, for just as no person’s opinion is like that of another, so their faces are different from one another.

On seeing evidence of charitable efforts: Praised be Adonai our God, ruler of space and time, who clothes the naked.

On seeing people who overcome adversity: Praised be Adonai our God, ruler of space and time, who gives strength to the weary.

Understanding that suffering, sorrow and even death do not nullify the basic goodness of the world God has created, and training oneself to see all the blessings that surround us, are two of the many ways the rabbinic tradition in Judaism teaches Jews to have a positive and optimistic view of both the natural world and the human world we live in.

1.-Jennifer E. Stellar, Neha John-Henderson, Craig L. Anderson, Amie M. Gordon, Galen D. McNeil, Dacher Keltner. Positive Affect and Markers of Inflammation: Discrete Positive Emotions Predict Lower Levels of Inflammatory Cytokines.. Emotion, 2015; DOI: 10.1037/emo0000033 )