Self Satisfaction or Purposeful Life: Our Genes Know the Difference


It seems that happiness comes in two flavors, and each flavor has a different effect on the expression of our genes.

One flavor is hedonic well-being, or happiness related to the enjoyment of self-gratification. The second flavor is eudaimonic well-being, happiness owed to having an abiding sense of purpose and meaning in one’s life.

Researchers at UCLA studied about 21,000 genes in relation to eudaimonic and hedonic happiness. Their findings make it clear that the flavor of our happiness has an impact on our genetic expression and health.

Mapping Our Genetic Happiness Response

The UCLA study involved assessing 80 healthy adults for eudaimonic or hedonic well-being, and for potential adverse behavioral and psychological elements.

Then, blood was drawn from each participant and run through a gene-expression profile called CTRA, or conserved transcriptional response to adversity. Our response to adversity is believed to have evolved from our body’s immune system responding to changing socio-environmental patterns.

The CTRA profile mapped the biological effects of each individual’s assessment of their happiness (hedonic or eudaimonic).

The Gene Mapping Results

  1. Individuals who reported high hedonic well-being (self-gratification) had elevated levels of unhealthy inflammatory gene expression and a low expression for antiviral/antibody (immune system) activity.
  2. Individuals who rated high in eudaimonic well-being (deep sense of purpose) had low levels of inflammatory gene expression and strong demonstration of antiviral and antibody genes.

“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,” said lead researcher Steven Cole. “Apparently, the human genome is much more sensitive to different ways of achieving happiness than are conscious minds.”

Making The Research Practical

So, each group of study participants had similar ratings of positivity yet their genes responded in dissimilar ways. Although one research study does not indicate the discovery of a universal law, it seems we may do well to be more discerning about our flavor of happiness.

Our mind and feelings will tell us we are happy when we are generally interested in life, feeling satisfied, and feel happy. This hedonic well-being barometer is not bad, but not genetically-pleasing.

Genes are more responsive to our having a sense of direction or meaning in life, to whether we are contributing to society, and to our experiencing a sense of belonging.

Source: Medical News Today


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