A new study from UCLA and the University of North Carolina suggests that not all happiness is equal, and different types of happiness have different effects on the expression of inflammatory genes and antibody/antiviral genes. Participants of the study with high levels of hedonic happiness (the type of happiness that comes from consummatory self-gratification) had high levels of inflammatory gene expression and low levels of antibody/antiviral gene expression. Participants with high levels of eudomonic happiness (the kind you get from working towards a noble goal and searching for meaning in life) had low levels of inflammatory gene expression and high levels of antibody/antiviral gene expression.
According to Steven Cole, UCLA professor of medicine and co-author of the study:
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.
Lead author Professor Barbara L. Fredrickson of UNC suggests that:
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. 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.
…Most people are happy in both ways,” she said. And the secret to long-term good health may depend on keeping the two in balance.