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Do-gooders may be doing good things for their genes

Updated: July 31, 2013 03:04 PM
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WEDNESDAY, July 31 (HealthDay News) -- Different routes to happiness have varying effects on your genes and your health, according to a new study.

Researchers conducted genetic analyses of 80 healthy adults who were assessed for two different types of happiness.

The investigators found that people with high levels of happiness that comes from having a deep sense of purpose and meaning in life (eudaimonic well-being) had favorable gene expression in their immune cells. They had low levels of inflammatory gene expression and strong expression of antiviral and antibody genes.

The opposite was true of people with high levels of happiness associated with self-gratification (hedonic well-being). These people had high levels of inflammatory gene expression and low antiviral and antibody gene expression, according to the study published online July 29 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

But the researchers also found that people with high levels of hedonic well-being didn't feel any worse than those with high levels of eudaimonic well-being.

"Both seemed to have the same high levels of positive emotion. However, their genomes were responding very differently even though their emotional states were similarly positive," Steven Cole, a professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, said in a university news release.

"What this study tells us is that doing good and feeling good have very different effects on the human genome, even though they generate similar levels of positive emotion," Cole said. "Apparently, the human genome is much more sensitive to different ways of achieving happiness than are conscious minds."

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians explains how emotions affect your health.

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