Nowadays, a lot of folks pursue happiness as if it were their primary mission in life. But what is happiness?
Philosophers tell us there are at least 2 kinds. There is so-called “hedonic well-being” which is short-term pleasure derived from things like a tasty meal, great sex or a day in the amusement park. Then there’s “eudaimonic well-being” which comes from living with a sense of purpose, which is usually actualized by participating in meaningful activities like volunteering for a worthy cause, raising children or caring for others.
Scientists have recently joined their philosopher brethren in the analysis of happiness. Remarkably, they have produced evidence which suggests that people who are driven to achieve eudaimonic happiness actually have better health outcomes than those motivated to achieve hedonic happiness. They are more likely to remain intact cognitively, for example. They even tend to live longer.
For example, in a cohort study of 7,000 people known as MIDUS (the Mid-Life in the US National Study of Americans), Carol Ryff and colleagues at the University of Wisconsin have tried to identify social and behavioral factors that predict one’s ability to maintain good health into old age. The team has focused on sociocultural sub-populations known to be associated with poor health outcomes…things like low education level.
Ryff’s group showed that people with low education levels and high levels of eudaimonic well-being had lower blood levels of interleukin-6, a bio-marker of inflammation that has been linked to cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, even after accounting for hedonic well-being into account. Their write-up appears in Health Psychology.
As well, a study of 950 community-dwelling elderly folks linked eudaimonic well-being to a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. During their 7-year follow-up of this cohort, David Bennett and colleagues at Rush University Medical Center found that participants who reported having less of a sense of purpose in their lives were at least twice as likely to develop the debilitating condition as those who reported a greater sense of purpose. Their write-up appears the journal Archives of General Psychiatry. (more…)