So you take a spa day for yourself and relax.
Or you volunteer to help build a home for the
homeless as part of a large community effort.
Which will make you happier? Healthier?
A fascinating study led by Barbara L. Fredrickson
at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
found that the cells in your body know that
“not all happiness is created equal.”
Hedonic Vs. Eudaimonic Pleasure
Dr. Frederickson’s research team looked at the
cellular effects in people of engaging in two types
of activities that created feelings of well-being:
hedonic or individual pleasurable activities and
eudaimonic or activities where you strive for a
more meaningful or noble purpose.
Both kinds of pleasurable activities have the
ability to reduce stress and symptoms of
depression. Both make you feel happy.
What the research team explored was which
of the 2 types of activity had the most positive
effect on gene expression and on your health
in the long-term, as expressed through reduced
inflammation and improved immune cell function.
Noble Purpose All the Way!
What they found was that people engaging in
activities that were pleasurable, but which were
focused on a purpose beyond self-gratification,
were found to have decreased stress-related gene
expression…they would be more protected against
inflammation and have better anti-viral response.
Dr. Frederickson likened activities that were
engaged in for pure self-gratification to be, to
the body, the equivalent of eating “empty calories.”
Like junk food, it would taste or feel good for a
little while, but the long-term consequences
could actually be harmful to your health.
Don’t Cancel Your Vacation!
This doesn’t mean a spa day or a vacation is
going to ruin your immune system! But the
results of this research suggest that if you have
a choice between doing something just for you
that makes you feel good and doing something
with and for others that makes you feel good,
all things being equal, go for the “doing for
others” activity. Both will make you feel good.
But only the meaningful activity will actually
help you to be healthier in the long run.