How Happiness Turns into Well-Being

A Formula for Lasting Well-Being?

Noble Purpose + Connectedness = Vitality 


What are the molecular signaling pathways that transduce positive psychological states into somatic physiology? 

According to this exploration, not all happiness generates the same effects on the immune system. Some types pass through in a more transitory way. And others become embedded in our embodied nature, generating enhanced well-being and health.


How do you know which type are you pursuing?


Barbara Fredrickson, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, helps create a tangible distinction between two types of happiness, hedonic and eudaemonic, through illuminating aspects of the expressions within human biology. These are described as:


Hedonic: Representing the sum of an individual’s positive affective experiences.

EudaImonic: Striving toward meaning and a noble purpose beyond simple self-gratification.


She clarifies:

It’s the difference, for example, between enjoying a good meal and feeling connected to a larger community through a service project, she said. Both give us a sense of happiness, but each is experienced very differently in the body’s cells. Eudaimonic well-being was, indeed, associated with a significant decrease in the stress-related CTRA gene expression profile. In contrast, hedonic well-being was associated with a significant increase in the CTRA profile. Their genomics-based analyses, the authors reported, reveal the hidden costs of purely hedonic well-being.


Through the lens of the human genome system and researching 80 healthy adults, Barbara helps offer evidence towards how these differing approaches come to life in our species. She indicates that by aligning one’s life with deep interconnectivity and a purpose-driven existence, the essence of happiness actually manifests into the information systems that makes up our bodies within our genes and cells.


Basically, the physical manifestation process of well-being!


She informs us:

“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.”


Perhaps the often stated advice to live into one's distinct purpose on earth holds a new type of motivation beyond spiritual growth, one of a movement rooted in evidence of cellular health and vitality. 


One summary of Fredrickson's exploration states: "The finding that hedonic and eudaimonic well-being engage distinct gene regulatory programs despite their similar effects on total well-being and depressive symptoms implies that the human genome may be more sensitive to qualitative variations in well-being than are our conscious affective experiences."


The results bolster Fredrickson’s previous work on the effects of positive emotions, as well as research linking a sense of connectedness with longevity. “Understanding the cascade to gene expression will help inform further work in these areas,” she explains. 

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