People who have high levels of what is known as eudaimonic well-being — the kind of happiness that comes from having a deep sense of purpose and meaning in life (think Mother Teresa) — showed very favorable gene-expression profiles in their immune cells. They had low levels of inflammatory gene expression and strong expression of antiviral and antibody genes. However, people who had relatively high levels of hedonic well-being — the type of happiness that comes from consummatory self-gratification (think most celebrities) — actually showed just
the opposite. They had an adverse expression profile involving high inflammation and low antiviral and antibody gene expression.
Science suggests that the fleeting happiness you get from succumbing to a temptation is inferior — at least when it comes to its effect on how your genes express — to the type of happiness you can draw out of a sense of purpose and meaning in life.
According to the study, a person guided by a deep sense of purpose is less likely to suffer from inflammation and more likely to have a stronger immune system. While both types of happiness can generate the same positive emotions, it’s those with high levels of eudaimonic well-being that benefit more .
Since the results come from a study on just 80 participants, we shouldn’t treat the conclusions as a broadly-applicable scientific fact. However, there’s definitely immense power in having a mission in your life.
When all of your decisions are aligned toward a better future (even if you’re suffering at times because things don’t go as planned or it’s hard to maintain self-discipling, you wake up fired up, with vigor and a sense of purpose you’d never get if you were to prioritize hedonic well-being.