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Feel Good or Do Good?

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and elsewhere turned to the human genome to search for the molecular mechanisms that link psychological well-being to its attendant health advantages. As they describe in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week, they examined the leukocyte basal gene expression profiles of 80 healthy people whose hedonic and eudaimonic well-being were also assessed. Hedonic well-being is associated with self-gratification, while eudaimonic well-being is associated with a sense of purpose in life.

From this, the Chapel Hill-led team found that hedonic and eudaimonic well-being is associated with related, but divergent, expression of genes that make up the conserved transcriptional response to adversity gene expression program. That CTRA gene expression profile is characterized by the increased expression of genes involved in inflammation and the decreased expression of genes associated with antiviral response and antibody synthesis.

Hedonic well-being was associated with up-regulation of the CTRA gene expression profile, while eudaimonic well-being appeared to be linked to decreased CTRA expression, the researchers reported.

"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," Steven Cole, the senior author, said in a statement.