Mental Development Likely Impacts Gene Expression

Research conducted at the University of North Carolina and the University of California, Los Angeles, gave 80 healthy volunteers and an assessment to study the impacts of two different types of happiness.  Researchers then took blood samples to analyze the subject's white blood cells. The findings suggest your genes can tell the difference between a purpose driven life connected to serving others and a shallower more self-centered one. And, your genetic responses occur even if your self-awareness cannot distinguish between the two.

The two forms of happiness studied were hedonic and eudaemonic well-being. Hedonic happiness centers around self-indulgence, pleasure seeking and self-gratification behaviors. It is you consuming (consumption in the broadest sense of the term) what you want for your own enjoyment. In contrast, eudaemonic happiness points to how Aristotle used the term. Eudaemonia was the highest human good.  Some translate this term to mean "human flourishing." The researchers used this term to point toward happiness and well-being connected to a sense of higher purpose and service to others.

The findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, show both forms of happiness had similar affective correlates. The experience, feelings and emotions of happiness were similar in both groups. However, when we turn our attention away from the subjective psychological findings things get very interesting. The two different forms of happiness had divergent RNA profiles.

Your RNA codes, decodes, regulates and performs other vital roles in gene-expression. In the case of hedonic happiness and well-being, surprisingly the gene-expression profiles were unhealthy. High levels of biological markers known to promote inflammation throughout the body we found. In the words of New York Time's writer Gretchen Reynolds, "Such inflammation has been linked to the development of cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease." While stress-related genetic responses were up-regulated and proinflammatory genes had increased expressions, unfortunately genes-expression associated with antibody synthesis decreased.

As hedonic happiness increased stress responses throughout the body and impaired critical facets of the immune system, individuals enjoying eudaemonic happiness biologically moved in the opposite direction as stress-related genetic responses were down-regulated. Positive changes were also found in antibody gene-expressions.

From a developmental perspective, we might say the happiness and enjoyment associated with your less complex self-centered needs and desires causes some negative biological outcomes. A more complex perspective, one that intimately connects your behavior, attention and energy toward serving others and moving toward a larger collective mission rewards you at the very center of your biological source code.

While I wouldn't have suggested this while writing The Elegant Self, participating with elegance graciously rewards you on a cellular level all the way down to which facets of your DNA is up-regulated and down-regulated. And it doesn't take weeks to create this change, gene-expressions are always in an intimate conversation with your mental complexity and the environment you are interacting with. Don't wait, genetic and cellular adaptations for the better can be just moments away. Start refining your elegance now.

Rob McNamara
Author, The Elegant Self & Strength To Awaken

Want the hard science? Dive into the full article here.

Want the New York Times synopsis? Get Gretchen's article here.


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