New research suggests that experiencing the right kind of happiness can change our genetic code that defines the core of our very being.
New studies indicate that our bodies recognize – at the molecular level – that not all happiness is created equal – It then responds in ways that can either help or hinder our physical health.
Wow, let that sink in for a minute….Now, there are two types of happiness’s –
Hedonic happiness, is the type we get from pleasure of the senses, such as going on vacation, having a good meal, enjoying a hobby, sport or other types of personal indulgences.
Eudaimonic happiness, is a contented state of being happy that we get from a noble goal that brings us pleasure. This can be working to relieve the suffering of another living being, spiritual pursuits, or searching for and finding a greater purpose in our lives.
The hedonic or simple pleasures in life do make us feel happy but they don’t have a positive impact our genes.
Researchers found that the sense of well-being derived from “a noble purpose” may provide cellular health benefits, whereas “simple self-gratification” may have negative effects, despite an overall perceived sense of happiness.
According to Barbara L. Fredrickson, it’s the difference between enjoying a good meal and feeling connected to a larger community through a service project. Both give us a sense of happiness, but each is experienced very differently in the body’s cells.
“We know from many studies that both forms of well-being are associated with improved physical and mental health, beyond the effects of reduced stress and depression,” Fredrickson said. But if all happiness is created equal, and equally opposite to ill-being, then patterns of gene expression should be the same regardless of hedonic or eudaimonic well-being. Not so, found the researchers.
Eudaimonic well-being was, indeed, associated with a significant decrease in the stress-related CTRA gene expression profile. Doing good, produces a stronger expression of antibody and antiviral genes.
In contrast, hedonic well-being was associated with a significant increase in the CTRA profile. Their genomics-based analyses reveal the hidden costs of purely hedonic well-being. Simply feeling good types of happiness had weaker expression of antibody and antiviral genes.
Fredrickson found the results initially surprising, because study participants themselves reported overall feelings of well-being. “Their daily activities provide short-term happiness yet result in negative physical consequences long-term,” she said.
“We can make ourselves happy through simple pleasures, but those ‘empty calories’ don’t help us broaden our awareness or build our capacity in ways that benefit us physically,” she said. “At the cellular level, our bodies appear to respond better to a different kind of well-being, one based on a sense of connectedness and purpose.”
Steven Cole, one of the authors of the study explained:
“What this study tells us is that doing good and feeling good have very different effects on the human genome, even though they generate similar levels of positive emotion. Apparently, the human genome is much more sensitive to different ways of achieving happiness than are conscious minds.”
So, lets pursue the doing of good for others as well as for ourselves!
What type of Eudaimonic happiness do you engage in?
Barbara L. Fredrickson, Kenan Distinguished Professor of psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
A study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, examined the pattern of gene expression within the cells responsible for fighting off infectious diseases and defending the body against foreign materials (Fredrickson et al., 2013). In this study, eighty (80) healthy adults were assessed for “hedonic” and “eudaimonic” well-being.