Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Genetically Happy?

Worth or wealth.
Loving or having.
Giving or getting.

Genetic clues...
People who have high levels of eudaimonic well-being - happiness from a deep sense of purpose and meaning (like Mother Teresa, perhaps) - show consistently favorable gene-expression profiles in their immune cells. They have low levels of inflammatory gene expression and strong expression of antiviral and antibody genes.
However, people who have high levels of hedonic well-being - happiness from luxury and self-gratification (like maybe rich people) - actually show just the opposite. They have an adverse expression profile involving high inflammation and low antiviral and antibody gene expression.
Questions about genetic determinism have been around for a while. Are we behaviorally shaped by our genes? Are genes the 'cause' and we the 'effect' in the equation, or is there a measure of choice we might have? 

As science continues the inquiry, we find that sometimes, the expected cause and effect are reversed.  Behavior and environment choices often 'cause' genetic expression. Studies have repeatedly shown that extended periods of stress produce a systemic baseline change in genetic activity. It's actually got a name, the conserved transcriptional response to adversity, or CTRA.  The shift is characterized by an increased expression of genes involved in inflammation and a decreased expression of genes involved in antiviral responses. I.e., your health is at increased risk. 

And now it appears that our values affect our genetic activity as well.  From the studies, at least some of our genetic equipment waits for us to decide how and if it will become active within us.  Who knew?

It's worth noting that the environment in which we raise our children is a parental opportunity to make a difference that can last a lifetime. The values we pass on to our children  ... less conflict, more grace, less materialism, more generosity, and voilà!  We shoulda seen that one coming.  :)

There's more on the horizon, of course.  Much more.  As scientific progress continues, what fascinating and useful things will emerge?