Happiness in Our Genes?
Not all human happiness is created equal, according to new research led by Barbara L. Fredrickson, Kenan Distinguished Professor of Psychology at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Researchers found that the sense of well-being derived from "a noble purpose" may provide cellular health benefits, while "simple self-gratification" may have negative effects, despite an overall perceived sense of happiness.
The researchers studied what Frederickson and her colleagues described as "two basic forms of well-being: a 'hedonic' form, representing an individual's pleasurable experiences, and a deeper 'eudaimonic' form that results from striving toward meaning and a noble purpose beyond simple self-gratification."
Examples of the two forms include the difference between enjoying a good meal and feeling connected to a larger community through a service project. Both provide a sense of happiness, but each is experienced very differently in the body's cells.
While eudaimonic well-being was associated with a significant decrease in the stress-related gene expression profile, hedonic well-being was associated with a significant increase in the profile. The genomics-based analyses reveal the hidden costs of purely hedonic well-being, the researchers reported.
The researchers suggest that people who experience more hedonic than eudaimonic well-being consume the emotional equivalent of empty calories.
"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," Frederickson wrote. "At the cellular level, our bodiesappear to respond better to a different kind of well-being, one based on a sense of connectedness and purpose."
Learn more at pnas.org (search for Eudaimonic).