In health, happiness matters – but so does how you try to achieve it

Dr. Cindy Haines Health Guide
  • A recent study on happiness and its effect on health caught my attention. I am a huge fan of positive psychology in general - the idea that we should focus on what is right with us - our strengths - and work from there, rather than always trying to fix what's "wrong" with us or focus on our perceived (or even actual) weaknesses.


    In what may seem unrelated and even a little "stream of consciousness," I've also been thinking a lot about how simplifying is the thing to do - what I want to do. As Tyler Durden said so well in Fight Club, "The things you own end up owning you."


    Owning things can be stressful, and the more (and the nicer) the stuff we own, the more focus and potential worry it all requires.

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    When I see people trying to achieve happiness by acquiring stuff, it triggers thoughts about the chances of success in that mission, and the hope of sustainability of that mission (both of which I would predict to be poor and/or short-lived). I believe that true and sustainable happiness comes from a more altruistic or service-to-others-as-well-as-self approach. This approach includes things we do that may or may not bring immediate gratification, but that provide a longer-lasting, more real sense of well-being – things like daily exercise, helping our child with his/her homework or a kind word/gesture to someone passing through our day.


    Back to the study. This study, currently appearing in the online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, made me feel somewhat justified in my philosophy. Researchers from UCLA and UNC found that happiness actually affects your genes, but that different types of happiness have different gene expressions.


    Specifically, those who have high levels of "eudaimonic well-being," defined as that which comes from having a deep sense of purpose and meaning in life, demonstrated favorable gene-expression profiles in their immune cells, with low levels of inflammatory gene expression and strong expression of antiviral and antibody genes.


    On the other hand, people who demonstrated "hedonic well-being," defined as happiness that comes from self-gratification (and consumption for that purpose) showed the opposite expression: high inflammation and low 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," one of the authors said in a statement. "Apparently, the human genome is much more sensitive to different ways of achieving happiness than are conscious minds."


    Hmmm…an unconscious process worth being conscious of. Interesting.




    Wheeler, Mark. "Be Happy: Your Genes May Thank You for It." UCLA, 29 July 2013. Web. 19 Aug. 2013. <>.



    For even more tips on how to get better health and need the health care system less, check out: The New Prescription: How to Get the Best Health Care in a Broken System by Dr. Cynthia D. Haines, M.D. (Dr. Cindy Haines) and Eric Metcalf, M.P.H. This is a book about getting what you really want: better health on your own terms. More medical care doesn’t mean better health. Dr. Haines and Metcalf reveal some of the most egregious problems with a medical system gone awry, opening readers’ eyes to how to better navigate the changes underway. Using solid research, insiders’ insights, and patient anecdotes, they offer cost-effective and potentially life-saving ways to get more out of health care while using less of it.


Published On: August 19, 2013