Happiness. Next to money it’s probably the thing people want most. We go after it. We read books about how to get happy. We buy products to make us happy. We do fun things, go places, laugh with friends, move into relationship, watch movies, and, we eat ice cream, well at least some of us do – all to make us happy. It works. For awhile.
Such is the nature of happiness – at least the kind we often pursue. That kind is dependent on something else, something external, something outside of us. When we get the new shoes, we feel happy. When the kid behaves well, we get happy. But within minutes, the happy dims.
But, it doesn’t have to. There is another form of happiness that neuropsychologists call eudaimonic well-being. This happiness starts within when we have a deep sense of purpose and meaning. Those positive feelings build when we do good.
Steven Cole, a UCLA professor of medicine, and Barbara Fredrickson, a positive psychologist and researcher at the University of North Carolina studied how the human genome – which is a complete set of DNA and genes containing all the body’s information –responded to positive experiences and emotions. They discovered that genomes – the very building blocks of the body – do respond differently in people with greater eudaimonic happiness.
People with a sense of purpose and meaning in life, those who give to others, do good, and make a positive contributions, had lower levels of inflammation, stronger levels of antiviral and antibody genes, and stronger immune cells. We are healthier and happier when we do good and live with purpose.
Even though study participants often shared the same expressed emotional state those who had greater eudaimonic well-being had a greater immune response. People who had what the big wigs called hedonic well-being, or the type of happiness that comes with those little moments of self-gratification, had higher levels of inflammation and lower antivirals and antibody response.
How Living With Our Values Boosts Happiness
This ties in with the values-based happiness I write about in Imperfect Spirituality. This too is a sustainable form of happiness because it emerges out of how we live our lives. When we are on track, living close to the things we deem important – the things we value – we feel happier. This isn’t flash happiness, it isn’t the kind that lasts for a few minutes when we get a new toy, or enjoy a concert. This is the kind that lingers in the background of our lives. The kind, that even in moments of sadness or frustration, never completely disappears, because if we are living a values based-life we are also living with meaning and purpose.
The Joy of Giving
Often, part of our purpose is to do good on the planet. To make a positive contribution, a difference. And we act on that by helping others. That, is happy making at our very base level. Altruism boosts immune function, improves our moods, and is linked, not only to a higher quality of life, but a longer one, according to Stephen Post, at Stony Brook University.
Those who help others also experience a “helpers high” when their bodies are flooded with feel good endorphins and other natural chemicals. It’s pretty basic: When we do good, we feel good.
And I think this is essential to living our best lives, because when we feel good we do better. We are more productive, we are more loving, we are more open and aware and engaged. You see the cycle? These good feelings open up more possibilities to do good and when we do good, we feel good and the happy continues.
We make this hard though. We think we can’t make a difference. We don’t have enough money, or time, or we aren’t worthy, or our efforts will be rejected or, whatever.
Move on people. Your small act of goodness can make a big difference in the world and you’re genes will be happier for it.
In Wednesday’s post I’ll offer up some simple ideas for doing good.
What are some of the ways you help others? How does it make you feel?
Photo by: Stock.xchng