Human cells respond in healthy, unhealthy ways to different kinds of happiness

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Human bodies recognize at the molecular level that not all happiness is created equal, responding in ways that can help or hinder physical health, according to new research led by Barbara L. Fredrickson, Kenan Distinguished Professor of psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


The sense of well-being derived from "a noble purpose" may provide cellular health benefits, whereas "simple self-gratification" may have negative effects, despite an overall perceived sense of happiness, researchers found. "A functional genomic perspective on human well-being" was published July 29 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Philosophers have long distinguished two basic forms of well-being: a 'hedonic' [hee-DON-ic] form representing an individual's pleasurable experiences, and a deeper 'eudaimonic,' [u-DY-moh-nick] form that results from striving toward meaning and a noble purpose beyond simple self-gratification," wrote Fredrickson and her colleagues.

It's the difference, for example, between enjoying a good meal and feeling connected to a larger community through a service project, she said. Both give us a sense of happiness, but each is experienced very differently in the body's cells.

"We know from many studies that both forms of well-being are associated with improved physical and mental health, beyond the effects of reduced stress and depression," Fredrickson said. "But we have had less information on the biological bases for these relationships."
 

Written By: Medical Xpress
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  1. Fredrickson found the results initially surprising, because study participants themselves reported overall feelings of well-being. One possibility, she suggested, is that people who experience more hedonic than eudaimonic well-being consume the emotional equivalent of empty calories. “Their daily activities provide short-term happiness yet result in negative physical consequences long-term,” she said.

    “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,” she said. “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.”

    Interesting stuff. Maybe this can lead to a better understanding of stress symptoms and behavioral patterns such as comfort eating et al.

  2. How does the body know the difference between a “noble purpose”, and “simple self-gratification”? Is a person who protests abortion clinics everyday because he thinks it’s a noble purpose healthier than a person who eats at his favorite restaurant everyday?

    • In reply to #2 by A3Kr0n:

      How does the body know the difference between a “noble purpose”, and “simple self-gratification”?

      I think there is a significant difference between relaxation from a good meal or watching an entertaining show, and let’s say the satisfaction of being a member of a team which put men on the Moon, or sent a successful probe to the outer Solar-System.

      Is a person who protests abortion clinics everyday because he thinks it’s a noble purpose healthier than a person who eats at his favorite restaurant everyday?

      A person who protests abortion clinics is probably generating considerable frustrations and stress in themselves. This helps them to see their “frustrated suffering of stress” as martyrdom, They then see those who will not conform to their demands as victimising them. As “suffering” in the name of religion is promoted as a virtue, they see no problem with being miserable bigots.

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