Steven Cole, a professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles has spent the last 10 years trying to figure out what makes the human genome tick. Specifically, how our genes respond to stress, misery, fear and various other forms of negative psychology.
But in his latest foray, Cole and his colleagues decided to look on the brighter side; they set out to see what biological implications happiness has on genes.
The researchers assessed and took blood samples from 80 healthy adults who were classified as having either hedonic or eudaimonic well-being. Hedonic well-being is defined as happiness gained from seeking pleasure; eudaimonic well-being is that gained by having a deep sense of purpose and meaning in life.
The study showed that people who had high levels of eudaimonic well-being showed favorable profiles with low levels of inflammatory gene expression and exhibited a strong expression of antiviral and antibody genes. For the pleasure seekers, the opposite was true; those with high levels of hedonic well-being showed an adverse gene-expression profile, giving high inflammation and low antiviral/antibody expression.
The differences in genes persisted even though both groups were happy and felt comparable amounts of well-being.
“Both seemed to have the same high levels of positive emotion. However, their genomes were responding very differently even though their emotional states were similarly positive,” Cole said. “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,” he added.
This study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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