Thursday, August 15, 2013

Your body knows...

 "Human Cells Respond in Healthy and Unhealthy Ways to Different Kinds of Happiness"
 Prof. Barbara L. Fredrickson

I came across a fascinating piece of research recently on the effects of various positive emotions on the body. It's from studies done by Prof. Barbara L. Fredrickson and her colleagues. Her work shows that human bodies recognize at the molecular level that not all happiness is created equal, responding in ways that can help or hinder physical health. I figured this was sufficiently important and life enhancing that I needed to share it with you in this blog.

In essence, the reseachers found that the sense of well-being derived from "a noble purpose" may provide cellular health benefits, whereas "simple self-gratification" may have negative effects, despite an overall perceived sense of happiness. Now this is interesting, because in my work on mBIT (multiple Brain Integration Techniques), and as described in my book mBraining, our multiple brains (head, heart, gut) have what we call their 'Highest Expressions'.

For the Heart it is Compassion, for the Head it is Creativity and for the Gut it is Courage. What we found is that each brain has a set of core competencies and prime functions they are involved in expressing, controlling and representing and that these competencies are influenced by the state of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) that innervates all of the brains. The most adaptive and generative ANS mode is one in which the two arms of the ANS (the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic) are in coherence or balance. For the heart, this balanced mode is where competencies such as love, joy, compassion etc. are able to be expressed.

Now from our behavioral modeling work, and backed up by numerous avenues of scientific evidence, we found that Compassion is the most generative of all the competencies of the Heart intelligence. And fascinatingly, the research by Barbara Fredrickson supports this notion. In her studies, she compared heart-based emotions of hedonic happiness with eudaimonic states (striving toward meaning and a noble purpose beyond simple self-gratification) such as loving-kindness and compassion and looked at the biological influence of these in the pattern of gene expression within people's immune cells. While participants reported overall feelings of well-being when experiencing hedonic states such as joy and happiness, these states did not produce the same gene expression of decreased stress related cellular inflammatory response as that of eudaimonic states.

As Dr. Fredrickson indicates, people who experience more hedonic than eudaimonic well-being consume the emotional equivalent of empty calories. "Their daily activities provide short-term happiness yet result in negative physical consequences long-term," she suggested. And this is important. Highest Expressions such as Compassion in the heart are generative, integrative and adaptive. They produce greater and wiser benefits in your life than the 'empty calories' of just experiencing happy (but potentially selfish) feelings in your heart.

So fill your life and every day with life enhancing thoughts and feelings of noble purpose, of loving kindness, of compassion, connection and caring for those around you. Make a difference both in your own life and the lives of others by truly caring, deep in your heart. Your body really does know the difference!

life enhancing wishes


  1. Grant, another fascinating and beneficial post! This makes perfect sense because even if we "lie" to ourselves, our bodies know the truth. So, of course, they know the truth about our motivations and the sources and true nature of our happinesses.

    1. Heya Jean, thanks for the great comment, and you are so right, our bodies really do know the truth, in all sorts of ways, and given that we actually have at least 2 brains (heart and gut) and probably at least another 2 (vagus nerve is sufficiently complex to be considered a brain, and there's almost definitely a reproductive brain) it really does mean that our bodies have adaptive intelligence and do their own form of knowing!

      smiles and many thanks


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