Maybe we should take a page from those do-gooder, Mother Teresa-types in our lives. A new study suggests they might be better off in the long run than those who seek joy from more shallow pursuits.
Researchers found that inflammatory gene expression was low and antiviral and antibody gene expression was high among people who found joy from having a greater purpose in life. Conversely, people who found joy in just pleasing themselves had higher inflammatory gene expression and lower antiviral and antibody gene expression.
"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," study researcher Steven Cole, who is a professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a member of the university's Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, said in a statement. "Apparently, the human genome is much more sensitive to different ways of achieving happiness than are conscious minds."
The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, involved 80 healthy adults who had blood samples drawn. Researchers assessed the study participants' hedonic well-being -- which is happiness that comes from self-gratification -- and eudaimonic well-being -- which is happiness that comes from having a purpose in life.
Researchers found that "people with high levels of hedonic well-being didn't feel any worse than those with high levels of eudaimonic well-being," Cole explained in the statement. "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.
Another thing we know promotes inflammation? Dwelling on stress. A study recently presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychosomatic Society showed that levels of inflammation markers, called C-reactive preteens, went up when a person ruminated over a stressful event.