What Science Says About the Healing Effects of Positive Feelings

Photo: Jessica To’oto’o on Unsplash

We’ve all felt the warm glow that positive feelings spread throughout our being. They seem to extend their healing rays to every cell of our bodies.

But can these feelings actually help our bodies to heal?

At Pacific Naturopathic, we’ve seen, over and over, how a simple change in feelings can speed the healing process.

What follows is a guest post by our web manager, George Beinhorn, from an inspiring new book, Happiness & Success at School. You can follow this link to read the chapters online, download a free PDF, or order your own trade paperback copy.

Although the book is directed at parents seeking an education for their children that will help them be successful and happy, we feel it’s vital for every adult be aware of the powerful links between happiness, healing, and success.


Scientists at the Institute of HeartMath™ Research Center (IHM) in Boulder Creek, California are studying the effects of positive feelings such as love, compassion, and kindness on our bodies and brains. Their research supports the notion that it’s vital, as the classic Harold Arlen and Jimmy Mercer song says, to learn to “accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative, and don’t mess with Mister In-Between.”[1]

Here are some of the Institute of HeartMath findings:

  • Positive emotional states exert a whole-body synchronizing effect by bringing brain waves, heart rhythms, breathing, and blood-pressure oscillations into a unified, harmonious rhythm. During positive feelings, “bodily systems function with a high degree of synchronization, efficiency and harmony.”
  • Deliberately focusing attention in the heart while cultivating feelings of love, compassion, etc., leads to clearer thinking, calmer emotions, and improved physical performance and health, as well as increased frequency of subjective reports of spiritual experiences.
  • Positive, expansive feelings such as love, appreciation, and compassion promote relaxation and synchronization of the nervous system. They quiet the “arousal” (sympathetic) branch of the nervous system and activate the “relaxation” (parasympathetic) side. The sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system is responsible for speeding up heart rate and preparing the body for action, while the parasympathetic branch governs the “relaxation response,” slowing heart rate and calming body, emotions, and brain.
  • Positive feelings quiet the mind, generate a sense of “self-security, peace and love,” and increase the frequency of reported feelings of “connectedness to God.”
  • Additionally, the researchers found that negative emotions such as anger, fear, and hatred make the heartbeat change speeds erratically—the heart literally speeds up and slows down chaotically from one beat to the next, like the random, jerky motion of a car that’s running out of gas. (See figure.)xxx
  • Positive emotions such as love, compassion, and appreciation, on the other hand, make the heart beat with a harmonious, regular rhythm. During negative emotions, the heart’s irregular speed changes appear as jagged, disordered spikes, and its power output is relatively low. Simple relaxation produces a more regular rhythm. But deliberately cultivating positive emotions makes the heart beat in a steady, consistent, harmonious rhythm, reflected in the regular, sine-wave-like pattern in the figure (“Appreciation”). During positive emotions, the heart’s power output jumps by over 500% above the levels attained during negative emotions and simple relaxation. (In the figure, note the Power Spectral Density [PSD] scale in “Appreciation.”)

The heart and brain communicate continually through the nervous system. Thus the heart’s powerful positive or negative, harmonizing or disruptive messages are carried instantly to the brain, where they enhance or interfere with our ability to remain cool and to concentrate. (The heart is the body’s most powerful oscillator, sending out electrical signals roughly 60 times as strong as those emitted by the brain.)

To summarize: positive, harmonious feelings enhance mental focus, calmness, health, performance, intuition, and the frequency of spiritual feelings. They increase relaxation, alpha-wave output in the brain (associated with a calm, meditative state), and synchronize heart-rhythm patterns, respiratory rhythms, and blood pressure oscillations.

When the Institute of HeartMath scientists taught simple methods for harmonizing the heart’s feelings to school children in the Washington, DC area, the children’s test scores immediately rose.

In the Living Wisdom Schools, the teachers lead the students in practicing heart-harmonizing methods every day. In the classroom and on the playground, the teachers pay close attention to the quality of the children’s interactions with each other. The teachers are trained to nurture a harmonious, safe, expansive environment that is optimized for learning.

At Pacific Naturopathic, we serve the whole person, helping our client-friends find healing and balance in all parts of their being. To discuss your health issue, or to schedule an appointment, give us a call today at (650) 961-1660.

[1] The basic Institute of HeartMath research is described in The HeartMath Solution by Doc Childre and Howard Martin (HarperSanFrancisco 1999), as well as in research papers on the organization’s website, www.heartmath.org.