*Psychological Science* has scheduled an article for publication in a future issue of the journal: How Positive Emotions Build Physical Health: Perceived Positive Social Connections Account for the Upward Spiral Between Positive Emotions and Vagal Tone, authored by Bethany E. Kok, Kimberly A. Coffey, Michael A. Cohn, Lahnna I. Catalino, Tanya Vacharkulksemsuk, Sara B. Algoe, Mary Brantley, and Barbara L. Fredrickson.
In the article, three correlations were studied: experiencing warmer, more upbeat emotions and living longer and healthier lives, experiencing positive emotions and having fewer headaches, chest pain, congestion, or weakness, and lastly experiencing positive emotions more frequently and having fewer colds.
To provide objective evidence of these correlations, cardiac vagal tones were studied. Indexed at rest as variability in heart rate associated with respiratory patterns, vagal tone reflects the functioning of the vagus nerve, which is the 10th cranial nerve and a core component of the parasympathetic nervous system, which regulates heart rate in response to signals of safety and interest. Low vagal tone has been linked to high inflammation and lower vagal tone forecasts greater risk for myocardial infarction and lower odds of survival after heart failure.
The question was, do positive emotions build physical health? Or is it the opposite: physical health promotes positive emotions?
Intriguingly, people with higher vagal tones were better able to regulate their emotions and had greater gains in positive emotions. The reciprocal was also true, people who showed greater gains in positive emotions showed greater improvements over time in their vagal tone.
The next time the doctor calls for increased exercise, improved diet, and reductions in tobacco/alcohol use, add an increase in self-generated positive emotions for overall good physical health.