Oftentimes, positive emotions are seen as important factors of living healthy. However, this study, published in Psychological Science, suggested that the relationship between emotions and health depends on the cultural context.
“Our key finding is that positive emotions predict blood-lipid profiles differently across cultures,” Jiah Yoo, a psychological scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told the Science Daily.
The study was designed for a cross-cultural comparison that examined data from two large representative studies of adults, midlife in the United States and midlife in Japan, which were both funded by the National Institute on Aging.
Results showed that American adults who experienced high levels of positive emotions, such as feeling ‘cheerful’ and ‘extremely happy’, were more likely to have a healthy blood-lipid profile. These results appeared even after other factors such as age, gender, socioeconomic status, and chronic conditions were considered.
The findings revealed that experiencing frequent positive emotions was associated with healthy lipid profiles for American participants, but no evidence of such connections were found for Japanese participants.
The differences may be partly because of the relationships between positive emotions and body mass index (BMI) in each culture. Higher positive emotions were linked with lower BMI and healthier blood-lipid profiles among Americans, but not among Japanese.
“Because of the global prevalence of coronary artery disease, blood lipids are considered important indices of biological health in many Western and East Asian countries,” explained Yoo.
The data included the participants’ ratings of how frequently they felt 10 different positive emotions in the last 30 days and measures of blood lipids, which gave objective data on participants’ heart health.
“In American cultures, experiencing positive emotions is seen as desirable and is even encouraged via socialization. But in East Asian cultures, people commonly view positive emotions as having dark sides — they are fleeting, may attract unnecessary attention from others, and can be a distraction from focusing on important tasks,” said Yoo.
What drove Yoo and his team to pursue this study is the fact that positive emotions are conceived and valued differently across cultures. They wondered whether the health benefits observed with positive emotions might be specific to Western populations.
“Our findings underscore the importance of cultural context for understanding links between emotion and health, something that has been largely ignored in the literature,” Yoo said.
Yoo concluded that through exhibiting cultural differences between emotional and physical health, their research had a wide-ranging relevance among those who seek to promote well-being in the communities and the workplace, such as clinicians, executives, and policy makers.
“Although some studies have examined cultural differences in links between positive emotions and healthy functioning, this work is novel in that it includes biological measures of health and large representative samples from both countries,” he explained.
The researchers plan to examine longitudinal data to determine whether the evidence will suggest a direct causal link between emotions and health in their future study. They also hope to identify emotional profiles that may be more relevant or important to health outcomes in East Asian cultures.
Having a healthy diet and living a healthy lifestyle are the best weapons to fight and prevent cardiovascular diseases, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). The AHA recommended using up as many calories as you take in, eating a variety of nutritious foods, eating less of the nutrient-poor foods, and avoiding smoking tobacco and inhaling second-hand smoke. (Related: Heart-healthy foods that lower blood pressure, reduce symptoms of plaque and improve cardio fitness.)
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