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Being ‘happy’ makes for good health, it's all in the genes

By Tim Sandle     Aug 1, 2013 in Health
According to a new study, a good state of mind affects your health. The study looked at how positive psychology impacts upon immune cells and the body’s ability to fight disease.
The researchers found something unexpected: different types of happiness have surprisingly different effects on the human genome. For example, people who have high levels of what is described as ‘eudaimonic well-being’ (that is a happiness related to a deep sense of purpose and meaning in life), showed very favorable gene-expression profiles in their immune cells. People so characterised had low levels of inflammatory gene expression and strong expression of antiviral and antibody genes.
In contrast, people who were classed as hedonists (or ‘hedonic well-being’), those who seek happiness from consuming the latest products and fashions, showed the opposite effect. People placed in this grouping had high cell inflammation and low antiviral and antibody gene expression.
For the study, the researchers drew blood samples from 80 healthy adults who were assessed for hedonic and eudaimonic well-being and analyzed the pattern of immune cells. The results were compared with people who had been assessed as having negative psychological and behavioral factors.
Previous studies have shown that periods of stress, threat or uncertainty impact on immune health where both major and minor stressful events were shown to have direct adverse effects on a variety of immunological mechanisms. What had not been looked at before was whether happiness has the opposite effect and, if so, do different ‘types’ of happiness lead to different states of health? The conclusion, based on the new research, is that there are different forms of happiness and they affect our immune system differently.
Whilst the immune cell responses related to biological studies, it should be noted that there are different ways of psychologically profiling people and defining ‘happiness’ can be somewhat subjective.
The study was undertaken by researchers from UCLA's Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology and the University of North Carolina. The study has been published in the journal of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The paper is titled “A functional genomic perspective on human well-being.”
More about Health, Genes, positive psychology, Psychology, Immune System
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