In 2007, Professors John Cacioppo and Steve Cole discovered that feeling lonely alters 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 can lead to heart attacks).
From 2010 to 2013, Steve Cole then worked with psychologist Barbara Fredrickson. They studied the genes of people who lived highly connected, hedonistic lives, looking for the opposite effect. And they also 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. 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 helps us to achieve more and makes us freer and more focused — it also changes the way our genes express themselves, making us healthier and enabling us to live longer. (This 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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