Did you know that there are two different types of happiness?
Eudaimonic Well-Being: Giving, passionate, nurturing, intrinsically happy
Hedonic Well-Being: Superficial happiness, ‘consummatory’ self-gratification
These two traits are both defined as happiness, but only one is linked to positive well-being; while the other can have lifelong negative effects.
In the past few years, as the science has unfolded in linking eudaimonic happiness to health, I have often pointed my patients toward the published information. Too often, I see clients who take longer to shake a cold, those who get the flu year after year, and some who just never feel healthy. They all say that they are happy with their lives, but if they open their minds to this research and start seeking true joy, I tend to notice a huge difference in the way their body handles and maintains an adjustment.
In 2013, Scientists from the UCLA Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology and the University of North Carolina found that positive psychology (happiness) impacts human gene expression (our DNA). In a study that took over 10 years to conclude, researchers learned just how life-altering it can be when an individual reaches an overall state of happiness.
Previous research had found that immune cells shift during extended periods of stress, threat or uncertainty. This shift is called the conserved transcriptional response to adversity, or CTRA, and it occurs when there is an “increased expression of genes involved in inflammation and a decreased expression of genes involved in antiviral responses.” But no one had looked at the emotion of happiness, and how it plays a role in the overall well-being of the human body.
Happiness can prevent and protect us from illness and disease, and it help lessen the impact or heal those who are ill. In the last 10-15 years, research has been published that links eudaimonic happiness to lower heart rate and blood pressure, healthier heart rate variability, increased immunity, decreased risk of various diseases (such as coronary heart disease), and increased chances of positive health outcomes during an illness. A 2010 study found that for every additional point of happiness a subject earned during their research, their individual risk of heart disease decreased by 22%.
What does this mean for those who fulfill their happiness by spending money and living a materialistically happy life? Simply put, it means the exact opposite of everything above. Instead of having low levels of inflammatory gene expression with high levels of antibodies and antiviral genes, their blood shows an hostile environment with high inflammation and low antiviral and antibody gene expression. This leads to higher risk of illness, chronic problems, and earlier death.
The 2013 study included blood samples from 80 healthy adults who were assessed for hedonic and eudaimonic well-being, as well as potentially confounding negative psychological and behavioral factors. The outcome not only taught us that eudaimonic happiness alters us at a cellular level, but researchers learned that both types of people (eudaimonic and hedonic) expressed the same levels of positive emotion. This means that just feeling happy is not what alters our genetic makeup; it is the happiness that occurs when we are doing good in this world that makes us healthier.
Researchers have found that the following 10 habits are scientifically linked to happiness, with acceptance being the number one predictor of reaching true happiness
- Giving: do things for others
- Relating: connect with people
- Exercising: take care of your body
- Appreciating: notice the world around
- Trying out: keep learning new things
- Direction: have goals to look forward to
- Resilience: find ways to bounce back
- Emotion: take a positive approach
- Acceptance: be comfortable with who you are
- Meaning: be part of something bigger
Take this as your inspiration to start working towards your own true happiness. You will thank yourself later.