In 2007, Professors John Cacioppo and Steve Cole discovered that feeling lonely changes people’s genes: it reduces our ability to fight off viruses and increases our risk of inflammatory diseases such as cancer, arthritis, and clogged arteries (which lead to heart attacks).
From 2010 to 2013 Steve Cole worked with psychologist Barbara Fredrickson, looking for the opposite effect. They studied the genes of people who lived highly connected, hedonistic lives and they studied the genes of people who lived lives built around purpose.
What they found was that the hedonistic lifestyles had no measurable effect on people’s genes. They were unchanged. But the genes of people who lived purposeful lives showed improved antiviral response and reduced risk of inflammatory diseases. Three larger studies have since shown similar results.
Living in line with our purpose not only makes us freer and more focused and helps us to achieve more — it also changes the way our genes express themselves, making us healthier and enabling us to live longer.
(The fact that purpose affects genes also implies that purpose is connected with evolution — but that’s a story for another day.)
Would you like to reduce your risk of inflammatory diseases such as heart attacks and cancer? Are you living a purposeful life?
Adapted from Inner Leadership: tools for building inspiration in times of change.
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