American scientists have found different types of happiness have surprisingly contrary effects on our genes.
UCLA research found that people who derive their happiness from helping others have strong antibody genes, while people who get their kicks from self-gratification can suffer from low antiviral and anitbody gene expression.
The study, which also involved the University of North Carolina, is the first of its kind to examine how positive psychology impacts human gene expression.
People who are do-gooders have high levels of ‘eudaimonic well-being’.
They derive their happiness from a deep sense of purpose and meaning in life showed favourable gene-expression profiles in their immune cells.
Those studied from this happiness group had low levels of inflammatory gene expression and strong antibody and antiviral genes.
However, individuals who have high levels of ‘hedonic well-being’ – the type of happiness that comes from consuming goods and self-gratification – showed the opposite.
This group of people showed high inflammation and weak antibody and antiviral genes.
The study’s findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The research, led by Steven Cole, a UCLA professor of medicine and Barbara L. Fredrickson of the University of North Carolina, has taken a decade.
The scientists have looked at how the human genome responds to fear, stress, misery and other negative mental states, but focused on how human genes might respond to positive psychology in this study.
Previous research found immune cells show a shift in baseline gene expression profiles during times of uncertainty, stress and fear.
The shift is characteristised by an increased expression of genes involved in inflammation and less of those involved in antiviral and antibody functions.
Individuals who had high levels of ‘hedonic well-being’ – the type of happiness that comes from consuming goods (pictured) showed high inflammation and weak antibody and antiviral genes
Professor Cole believes the response probably evolved to help human immune systems cope with the changing nature of microbial threat associated with changing social and environmental conditions at the time.
The threats included bacterial infection from wounds produced by fighting and increased risk of viral infections as people lived closer together and became more sociable.
Professor Cole said: ‘In contemporary society and our very different environment, chronic activation by social or symbolic threats can promote inflammation and cause cardiovascular, neurodegenerative and other diseases and can impair resistance to viral infections.’
In the present study, the researchers drew blood samples from 80 healthy adults who were assessed for hedonic and eudaimonic well-being, as well as negative psychological and behavioral factors.
The study concluded that doing good and feeling good have very different effects on the human genome, even though they generate similar levels of positive emotion. Human chromosomes under a scanning probe microscope are pictured
The team used the gene-expression profile to map the potentially distinct biological effects of hedonic and eudaimonic well-being.
The study found people with eudaimonic well-being showed favorable gene-expression profiles in their immune cells and those with hedonic well-being showed an adverse gene-expression profile.
But interestingly professor Cole said: ‘People with high levels of hedonic well-being didn’t feel any worse than those with high levels of eudaimonic 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.’
‘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.’
source: Dailymail UK