Hedonic v. Eudaimonic Wellbeing at the Molecular Level

Unsure whether to take a hedonic or eudaimonic approach to wellbeing? Let your molecules decide.  Incredibly, new research by Barbara Fredrickson and colleagues at the University of North Carolina and UCLA, suggests that the human genome may be more sensitive to differences between hedonic and eudaimonic wellbeing than either our affective states or our philosophers are. 

It turns out that hedonic and eudaimonic wellbeing are correlated with different patterns of gene expression. The molecular patterns associated with hedonic wellbeing are associated with a stress-related response that promotes inflammation and decreases antibody production.  In contrast eudaimonic wellbeing is associated with transcription patterns in the opposite direction that increase antibody production.  The authors draw this mindbending conclusion:

If “the good life” is a long and healthy life free from the allostatic load of chronic stress, threat, and uncertainty (55, 56), CTRA gene expression may provide a negative reference point for how not to live [figuratively in its association with adverse experience and literally in its expression of disease-promoting genes]. If we ask which type of happiness most directly opposes that molecular antipode, a functional genomic perspective favors eudaimonia.

My genes are tingling all over.

Fredrickson, B. L., Grewen, K. M., Coffey, K. a., Algoe, S. B., Firestine, a. M., Arevalo, J. M. G., … Cole, S. W. (2013). A functional genomic perspective on human well-being. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 1–6. doi:10.1073/pnas.1305419110