It seemed like sure a simple act, “a no brainer,” really. After all she only had a couple of items and I was easily going to pass the century mark with what was in my cart, besides I was in no real Hurry.
Maybe it was just me or maybe she was later for a “very important date,” and I’ll never know because I didn’t ask, but she responded to my small act of kindness with an enthusiasm and delight that was nice, but unexpected and, I thought, really not necessary.
Still I enjoyed it, it made me feel happy.
I checked out, exchanging pleasantries with the woman behind the counter. I wasn’t in a hurry, but I was excited to get home. The book I’d special ordered from the store, the one I’d been waiting for, had finally arrived. I could wait to get home a dive into it.
In a momentary flash of awareness hit me as I walked out the door, I realized how light my step was. I actually caught myself whistling a bit, though quietly under my breath.
In that same moment of awareness, because the neurons didn’t have far to go to make that connection; I knew why I was feeling so light. Within a span of a couple of minutes I’d my happiness box ticked – twice.
As I enjoyed these feelings of happiness, a thought ran through my head, “my happiness had two completely different sources.” They are two different kinds of happiness.
One the small act of kindness, the other getting something I really wanted, my book.
They didn’t feel any different to me. Happy was happy, it was all the same. Right?
Well, it might have felt the same, but according to a newly released, long term study all happiness is not created equal.
The UCLA research found that people who cultivate happiness by helping others end up with stronger antibody genes. The opposite is true when happiness is motivated by self-gratification. In that case we can suffer from a low antibody and antiviral gene expression; meaning our body isn’t as effective at fighting off the “bad” bugs.
Does this mean that every time we “express a little kindness” or indulge in a little self-gratification that we’ll suffer “dire” consequences?
No, I don’t believe so and I’ll share my thoughts and reasons in a moment.
First, though, let’s examine the research by Barbara L. Fredrickson from the University of North Carolina, and Steven Cole, a UCLA professor of medicine which has been on-going for a decade; their finding being published in the National Academy of Sciences.
Cole and Fredrickson studied the biological implications of experiencing happiness motivated by self-gratification and indulgence, compared the findings to happiness motivated by compassion, kindness (altruism) and well-being through some 21,000 genes.
The scientists not only looked at how the human genome responded to stress, fear, suffering, and other negative psychological states, but also, focusing on how human genes might respond to positive psychology as well.
The positive effects from happiness expressed by acts of kindness include a greater mind-body response to bacterial infection from wounds, and a reduction in inflammation; which can reduce the chances of cardiovascular, neurodegenerative and other diseases.
The conclusion reached, as reported in an article from “Scientific Blogging,” was:
“…while those with eudaimonic (altruistically motivated) well-being showed favorable gene-expression profiles in their immune cells and those with hedonic (self-centered) well-being showed an adverse gene-expression profile, “people with high levels of hedonic well-being didn’t feel any worse than those with high levels of eudaimonic well-being,” Cole said. “Both seemed to have the same high levels of positive emotion. However, their genomes were responding very differently even though their emotional states were similarly positive.
“What this study tells us is that doing good and feeling good have very different effects on the human genome, even though they generate similar levels of positive emotion,” he said. “Apparently, the human genome is much more sensitive to different ways of achieving happiness than are conscious minds.”
If you would like to read more about the results of this research, check out the rest of the article from “Scientific Blogging” or read the actual study published in the National Academy of Sciences.
This leads me back to the question, “Does that mean that every time you “express a little kindness” or indulge in a little self-gratification that you’ll suffer the “dire” consequences?”
I don’t believe so.
I believe, what the research is pointing to, and an important factor to consider, is what motivates us, what’s our intention.
It is our un-masked motivation and intention which manifest our emotion. If our authentic intention is to “express a little kindness,” – whether that expression is other or self-directed – the results will be a positive emotional expression.
Conversely, of course, if our motivation is self-gratification and indulgence then negative emotions and their consequences will result.
The key is authenticity – self-truth, which can be hidden or masked by our ego or “personal” self.
For example, someone may appear to be serving others, while deep within they are driven by a need to be admired. In other words, the real motivation is a self-centered desire to “look good.” This creates the undesirable, though often repressed, negative emotion
Repression and complete self-absorption (the inability to connect with the deeper self) accounts for superficial feeling of positive emotion.
At our core we know our real motivation and intention.
We cannot hide from ourselves or, it turns out, from our genes.