Happiness gets in your genes

There is happiness and there is happiness. There’s the happiness that comes from buying a Porsche or winning the footy tip competition at work; this is “hedonic happiness” and it comes from self-gratification. The other type of happiness comes from a sense of purpose and meaning in life; this is known as “eudaimonic happiness”. There is no real content between these “happiness” states of course. One is transitory and dependent on circumstances while the other travels with you regardless of what is happening. In fact, they almost don’t belong in the same experiential bag and this has been emphasised in a new study showing that eudaimonic happiness acts at such a deep level that it positively alters the expression of your genes.

In this new study researchers measured healthy adults for levels of hedonic happiness and eudaimonic happiness. They then took blood samples and used those samples to measure gene expression.

Their results showed that people with high levels of eudaimonic happiness had low levels of inflammatory gene expression and strong expression of genes for antiviral and immune antibody activity. By contrast those with high levels of hedonic happiness showed high inflammation but low antiviral and antibody expression.

This may be because maintained levels of happiness can act to reduce fear and stress. This is important because chronic stress, even in response to symbolic stressors, promotes inflammation and can cause cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases that reduce resistance to virus invasion. Interestingly, people who scored high on hedonic happiness and those who scored high on eudaimonic happiness did not report feeling any differently. It is likely then that two people who “feel” exactly the same could be experiencing a very different genetic result from their state of being because the nature of your happiness alters who you are at a gene level.

So the next time some mono-browed lascivious predator with horizontal-dancing intent says to you, “I want to get into your jeans”, your immediate and truthful answer can be, “Sorry hon, only happiness gets into my genes.”

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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