Stop. Breathe. Chronic stress harms the hippocampus, the brain’s main memory center.
Back in November, just before I left home for my shift at The Dining Room, an amazing restaurant-style facility that feeds 300+ homeless and hungry people every day, I posted a little essay on the health benefits of volunteering. The findings I wrote about – lower blood pressure, less depression, less incidence of heart disease – came from a round-up of recent research.
Now, as I rush to post this before I once again leave for my shift (which, I never get tired of saying, is the best, happiest, most soul-satisfying four hours I spend every week) I have more good news. It’s not exactly about health and the act of volunteering. It’s about the health and people who experience “high levels of well-being” (happiness) because they have found a deep sense of purpose and meaning in life. That category certainly includes those who volunteer, but you might get paid to do meaningful work. Or you might have reached satori.
Here’s the scoop from a recent UCLA study: Being happy affects your genes. Yes, definable, testable genetic effects. This is big.
Now it gets interesting. Researchers found that different types of happiness have surprising different effects on the human genome.
People who have high levels of what is called eudaimonic well-being — the kind of happiness that comes from having a deep sense of purpose— showed very favorable gene-expression profiles in their immune cells. They had low levels of inflammatory gene expression and strong expression of antiviral and antibody genes. You may remember from a past post how chronic, systemic inflammation is implicated in a host of so-called diseases of aging.
People who have relatively high levels of what’s called hedonic well-being (as in hedonist) – the kind of happiness that comes from self-gratification – show just the opposite. Their genes had adverse profiles involving high inflammation and low antiviral and antibody expression.
Researchers found that the meaningful lifers and the hedonists seemed (and said they were) equally happy. But the body, the wise, wise body, was able to distinguish between how they got so happy. That’s me talking. Here’s what the researchers said: “Their genomes were responding very differently even though their emotional states were similarly positive.”
I am beyond flabbergasted by this finding. It makes me very happy. But not as happy as I’m going to be when I get to the Dining Room, put on an apron and start serving.test Filed under Posts | Comments (5)