September marks the end of another business quarter and the end of summer. It’s time to get back to work, do some new deals, and make some more money. But perhaps you should focus on creating value not only for your business but also for society. Why? Because science says it’s good for you. (And there’s nothing wrong with being a do-gooder either.)
A new study, A functional genomic perspective on human well-being, is proving that your genes will recognize your contributions, too–and that’s good for your health and longevity. “Our genes can tell the difference between a purpose-driven life and a shallower one even when our conscious minds cannot,” said study co-author Steven Cole in a recent New York Times article.
In his study, 80 adult volunteers completed a ‘happiness’ survey. Participants were asked to describe what made them happy. Blood samples were also drawn to measure inflammatory markers, which are linked to the top three chronic illnesses and big killers—cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. As well, certain types of antibodies, cells known to fight off infections, were measured.
Those who based their happiness predominantly on consumption (hedonic happiness) were more likely to have higher inflammatory markers and lower levels of antibody production. As a result, they had an increased chance to more often get sick from infections and develop more serious illnesses earlier in their lives.
By contrast, those who based their happiness on living a life with a sense of higher purpose or service to others (eudaemonic happiness) had a better health profile. This group had low levels of inflammatory markers and higher antibody production.
Another definitive study was done by a group of scientists who looked at the effect on telomore length of a three-month meditation retreat (telomeres are the tips of your chromosomes and part of your DNA responsible for maintaining the stability of your genetic material. If they become too short prematurely, earlier onset of chronic illnesses can result).
They looked at ‘mindfulness’ as one quality cultivated by meditative practice. They also considered another understudied quality developed during meditative practice: a shift in intentions and priorities away from ‘hedonic’ pleasure or superficial well-being to making one’s deeper ‘purpose in life’ clearer.
The researchers found that telomerase (an enzyme which repairs telomere length) activity increased significantly in the meditation group compared to the control group. During the three-month experience, those in the meditation group increased both their perception of control and mindfulness of their “purpose in life.”
In scientific terms, genes have no sensors to judge our behaviour. However, genetic expression for longevity appears to favour those with a life strategy of improving the overall survival of our human species.
Most people have tended to intrinsically acknowledge that a purpose-driven life trumps a superficial one. Now we have facts and data to back it up, so go forth and be good.
Dr. Elaine Chin is the Chief Medical Officer of the Executive Health Centre which strives for Peak Health for Peak Performers™. Her clinic was the first in North America to offer genetics testing and now tests telomere length as well.