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Science, Purpose, and Well-Being

Friday, November 23, 2018

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that our body’s gene expression pattern distinguishes between the senses of well-being derived from a profound noble purpose versus simple self-gratification.


The chief investigator of this study, Barbara Fredrickson, PhD, professor of psychology at the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of North Carolina, said about her reasoning behind the study, “Philosophers have long distinguished two basic forms of well-being: a hedonic form representing an individual’s pleasurable experiences and a deeper eudemonic form that results from striving toward meaning and a noble purpose beyond self-gratification.” 


Both dimensions of well-being are deeply implicated in human biology and evolution, with hedonic well-being hypothesized to motivate basic physiological and psychological adaptions and eudemonic well-being affecting the greater good.  


Dr. Fredrickson and her team explained it as the difference between the sense of well-being associated with enjoying a good meal and the feelings of well-being connected to global and local communities through service projects. 


While both offer a sense of satisfaction, the cellular response is proving to be different.  


Eudemonic well-being was associated in this study with a significant decrease in harmful stress-related genetic response to adversity. The researchers likened hedonic sense of well-being to consuming an empty calorie diet. What a perfect analogy!  


Nutrient-empty diets leave us feeling hungry sooner, which promotes the consumption of more and more empty-calorie foods that are proven to provide short-term satiety and increase the risk of disease.


At the cellular level, our immune systems appear to respond far better to the sense of well-being based on humanitarian connectedness and purpose.


Molecular mechanisms


To identify molecular mechanisms underlying the prospective health advantages associated with psychological well-being, Fredrickson and her team analyzed leukocyte basal gene expression profiles in 80 healthy adults who were assessed for hedonic and eudemonic well-being, as well as potentially confounding negative psychological and behavioral factors. 


Interestingly, hedonic and eudemonic well-being were similarly experienced in the study group, but their genomic transcription profiles were completely different.


Peripheral blood mononuclear cells from people with high levels of hedonic  well-being showed up-regulated expression of a stress-related  transcriptional response to adversity involving increased expression of  pro-inflammatory genes and decreased expression of genes involved in  antibody and antiviral synthesis.


In contrast, high levels of eudemonic well-being was associated with down-regulation of stress-related negative transcriptional response to adversity and up-regulation of anti-inflammatory, antibody and antiviral response. 


The results of this study show that hedonic and eudemonic well-being, although correlated, have markedly divergent gene transcriptional correlates in human immune cells. The opposing transcription profiles emerged, despite the fact that hedonic and eudemonic well-being was experienced similarly at the level of consciousness. 


The study lead investigator conclusion, “Genomics-based analysis reveal an adverse molecular physiology of hedonic well-being that appears not to register at the level of experience. This disassociation of molecular well-being from affective well-being implies the potential for an objective approach to moral philosophy rooted in the utility of health and the basic biology of human nature, as revealed in two million years of evolved genomic programming to help human beings survive and thrive in this world.”  


Ellen Troyer, with Spencer Thornton, MD, David Amess and the Biosyntrx Staff





'Tis the season and the opportunity for all of us to increase our eudemonic well-being by supporting the nonprofit organizations and the  humanitarian ophthalmic surgeons who give so much of their time and  assets to help the medically underserved around the globe who are  blinded by cataracts and live in the hopelessness of darkness every  day. 


Biosyntrx supports the great work of the Hawaiian Eye Foundation​ We hope you will too. We make personal donations in the names of our children and grandchildren and place the thank you cards in their Christmas stockings, serving two purposes: sustainability for the foundations and eudemonic well-being lessons for our children.  


Crestpoint Management, LTD instrument announcement:
Donoso Capsulorhexis Marker for Multifocal Intraocular Lens Implants 9-518-4


Clinical references available in the Biosyntrx office.