Positive emotions, like kindness and a strong social network, go a long way in making you healthier and happier, according to research. It can lead to lower blood pressure, better weight management, and overall good health. But how and why?
Vagus nerve regulates heart rate and social connectivity.
A study published in Psychological Science found a link to the vagus nerve, which regulates heart rate changes associated with breathing and plays a key role in how people connect socially.
The research, which focused on meditation and stress, involved 65 participants who were divided into two groups. One group participated in six weekly classes on lovingkindness meditation, emphasizing compassion, while the other group did not. According to an article by Maia Svalavitz:
In the class, the participants were instructed to sit and think compassionately about others by starting to contemplate their own worries and concerns and then moving out to include those of more of their social contacts. People were taught to silently repeat phrases like ‘May you feel safe, may you feel happy, may you feel healthy, may you live with ease,’ and keep returning to these thoughts when their minds wandered.
For about two months, both groups recorded the amount of time they spent meditating each day, as well as powerful feelings of positive or negative emotions. Participant heart rate was tested before and after the six-week classes to determine variability and the response of the vagus.
In general, the greater [the vagus nerve’s] tone, the higher the heart-rate variability and the lower the risk for cardiovascular disease and other major killers.
Positive emotions & friends are good for your physical health.
The results showed that between the two study groups, those who took the six weekly meditation classes experienced increases in positive emotions, like joy and happiness, as well as social connectedness. And, their vagal function, as evidenced by heart-rate variability, improved.
The study’s lead researcher, Barbara Frederickson, commented:
The biggest news is that we’re able to change something physical about people’s health by increasing their daily diet of positive emotion, and that helps us get at a long-standing mystery of how our emotional and social experience affects our physical health.
For your own health and well-being, show compassion for others, be a good friend, and spread some positive karma. Our world could surely use more kindness and you can make a difference.