Slap-happy. Happy as a clam. Happy-go-lucky. We all know that there are many kinds of happiness, but now researchers have found that those variant joys are not only experienced differently, but their effects on the body aren't the same either.
New research jointly conducted at UCLA (under Stephen Cole), and the University of North Carolina (led by Barbara Fredrickson), looked at the genetic effects of different types of happiness. Based on 10 years of previous study, the new research was performed on 80 healthy people whose levels of hedonic and eudaimonic well-being was measured (they were also checked out for negative psychological issues). Hedonic happiness comes from consuming goods and self-gratification, while eudaimonic well-being comes from doing good in other ways - from caretaking animals or people, to personal/spiritual growth work to creative endeavors—basically those many things that aren't about immediate satisfaction but are all about helping others, improving the world, and making art.
The scientists, who have also looked at the genetic effects of fear, misery and stress (which repress immune function and exacerbate inflammation), now turned their tools to examine over 21,000 genes. They found those who had higher levels of hedonic happiness had a weaker baseline immune response, while those with eudaimonic happiness had more favorable gene-expressions.
Professor Cole told the Daily Mail, "'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. 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. Apparently, the human genome is much more sensitive to different ways of achieving happiness than are conscious minds."