University of Berkeley researchers tested 200 young adults and discovered a link between the experience of awe and wonder, and lower levels of cytokines — pro-inflammatory proteins that signal the immune system to work harder. Cytokines are necessary to help transport cells to areas of bodily infection and trauma, but sustained high levels of cytokines are associated with Alzheimer’s, arthritis, depression, heart disease, and other inflammatory conditions.
One of the study’s co-authors said that “awe, wonder, and beauty promote healthier levels of cytokines,” and added that this “suggests that the things we do to experience these emotions – a walk in nature, losing oneself in music, beholding art – [and, may I add, experiencing well-performed MAGIC!] — has a direct influence upon health and life expectancy.”
Jennifer Stellar, lead author of the study, said, “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.”
The researchers are not sure which comes first, the wonder or the cytokines: does wonder affect the cytokine level, or does the cytokine level help you feel more positive emotions? But the correlation is clear. If you’re feeling awe or wonder, your cytokines are under control.
I won’t go so far as to say, “Hire a magician and live longer!” But, hey, I can guarantee you won’t be depressed!