Human Genes React Positively To Happiness
July 30, 2013

Human Genes React Positively To Happiness

Michael Harper for - Your Universe Online

It's long been suggested by motivational speakers and proponents of alternative medicine alike that simply thinking positively and doing good for others could have a dramatic effect on mind, body and soul. Now research teams from UCLA and the University of North Carolina (UNC) say there may be tangible, physical proof human cells really do react positively to happiness and a benevolent spirit.

According to the research, people who have a sense of purpose and try to share these good feelings wind up with a stronger immune system. Alternatively, self-centered people obsessed with consumption may have their immune system suffer because of these negative emotions.

UCLA professor of medicine Steven Cole and UNC psychology professor Barbara L Fredrickson led the study, which is now published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The study of how cells genetically respond to positive moods and caring for others began on quite a different plane. For more than ten years, Cole and Fredrickson studied how cells respond to all manner of negative emotions, including fear, misery and stress.

"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," explains Fredrickson in a statement. "But we have had less information on the biological bases for these relationships."

The team refers to "a noble purpose" in their paper and the happy feelings experienced as a result of said purpose. Conversely, they say it's "simple self-gratification" that can negatively affect the body on a cellular level.

It's been previously seen that immune cells are particularly susceptible to emotions such as fear or stress. When these cells react to these feelings of uncertainty, they can become inflamed and even reduce their antiviral responses. Cole says he believes these cells could have developed to take on this reaction to counter the changing microbial threats of ever changing conditions in our ancestral history.

"But 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," explained Cole.

To confirm their hypothesis, the team had to observe cells, those from happy, hedonic people and those from self-gratifying and eudaimonic people. After collecting blood samples from 80 healthy adults, Cole and Fredrickson say cells from hedonic people showed an adverse gene-expression profile while cells from eudaimonic subjects showed favorable gene-expression profiles.

In other words, eudaimonic and hedonic people both had their cells react to their moods, and even the self-gratifying participants saw their stress levels decrease. Yet, Fredrickson says these lowered stress levels don't last long and will eventually affect eudaimonic people adversely later in life.

"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."