You can take anti-inflammatory drugs and consume an anti-inflammatory diet, but how about experiencing a dose of volunteer work to lower your inflammation? Chronic inflammation is a topic of research because it is implicated in a wide range of diseases from cancer to heart disease  A study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science showed that people who experienced happiness primarily by working for the greater good had lower levels of inflammatory proteins circulating in their blood; in contrast, people who experienced happiness predominately from self-gratification had higher levels of inflammatory proteins – comparable to levels in people who are depressed or stressed.


The authors differentiate between the following two types of well-being:

  • Hedonic: self-gratification experienced from positive transitory events such as purchasing a new car, smelling roses or enjoying ice cream
  • Eudemonic: happiness that results from striving toward meaning, a noble purpose beyond self-gratification, and working for the greater good

The emotional experience of these two kinds of happiness feels the same to you but the research shows your body knows the difference.

Perhaps when your source of happiness is primarily hedonic, there is an underlying stress after one source of gratification ends until the next one is attained. Self-gratification happiness is situational and temporary. Let’s say, for example, you go to the freezer for your private stash of chocolate ice cream — your source of hedonic happiness — but find that your carefully hidden stash has been uncovered and consumed down to the last teaspoon. If you were dependent on that chocolate ice cream for your happiness, then your biomarkers for inflammation just increased.

Eudemonic sources of happiness – volunteer work, spirituality, creative endeavors – are more stable and have deeper meaning than the “stuff” in your life. You can attain this type of happiness in a variety of ways: practicing your spirituality; volunteering your service to organizations that serve the disadvantaged; building trails and picking up litter to care for the environment; being involved in political activism for a cause that is compelling to you.

Hedonic and eudemonic forms of happiness are not mutually exclusive and this post is not about convincing you to give up your hedonic pleasures. The point is that participating in activities that benefit the common good and feeling a part of something greater than yourself create physiological changes in your body that positively impact your health.



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