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Stress and the Pursuit of (True) Happiness

Here’s the scoop: Our editorial team is working tirelessly to bring you several new resources—a book on the end times, a book on the Genesis creation days, a science-faith devotional for students, plus rereleases (and e-book editions) of a couple of out-of-print RTB titles.

  • Christian Endgame: Careful Thinking about the End Times by Kenneth Samples
  • Navigating Genesis: A Scientist’s Journey through Genesis 1–11 by Hugh Ross
  • Impact Events: Cell by Jeff Zweerink and Ken Hultgren
  • Origins of Life by Fazale Rana
  • A Matter of Days by Hugh Ross

Needless to say we are stressed, and we’re certainly not alone. Stress seems to be an unwelcome guest in most households. In an effort to combat stress, people ardently pursue happiness, and in a variety of forms. My small circle of Facebook friends alone offered a wide range of answers, ranging from connecting with loved ones, to serving the Kingdom, engaging in creative endeavors, and enjoying books, coffee, and puppies (of course).

Yet recent research indicates that the type of happiness we pursue can affect our health for better or worse. Biochemical engineer Katie Galloway explains this research in her article “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”

Katie explains that “the impact of stress on health can be mapped to changes at the genetic level.” She adds that stress can not only slow the healing of wounds and impair the immune system but also make infections and disease more dangerous. The T cells (“the immune system’s ninjas”) in people experiencing chronic stress will show CTRA expression, which she explains contributes to poorer health.

Here’s where the study really gets interesting. Researchers examined the well-being of eighty subjects. Those who pursued eudaimonic well-being (“striving toward meaning and a noble purpose beyond simple self-gratification”) showed a decrease in CTRA. In other words, it seems this particular form of happiness helped combat the negative effects of stress, putting them at lower risk for certain diseases. Awesome, right?

However, those who pursued hedonic (pleasure-seeking) well-being showed an increase in CTRA expression. That is, “Hedonic well-being biochemically strikingly mirrors the experience of bereavement, social isolation, or diagnosis with a life-threatening illness.” Not so awesome.

“The indication,” Katie suggests, “is that people who find hedonic well-being but do not experience eudaimonic well-being develop the same health risks as those with depression and stress….In other words, happiness derived from meaningful activities—many of which involve serving others rather than just ourselves—produces greater benefits than simply seeking pleasurable experiences.”

When it comes to pursuing happiness, it seems our bodies know what’s best. The benefits of eudaimonic well-being (serving others) ought to compel us to seek happiness through this means. Moreover, it might lead us to reflect on why our bodies react negatively to hedonistic well-being (serving just ourselves).

Katie offers the following questions:

What would you expect if there were a personal, transcendent God? Would you expect this God to build compassion into our very beings and physiology? Would you expect that He would transcend our world to offer us guidance on how to live? Would you expect that He would instruct His followers to act so as to promote life for others?

If you’re like me, you need to set aside some stress and mull over the answers. They could affect our health.


Additional Resources:

Religion and Mental Health Going to Church Is Good for You” (Article)

Live Long and Prosper: Going to Church Increases Lifespan” (Article)

God Makes You Glad: Positive Christian Attitude Linked to Happiness” (Article)

The Science of Happiness” (YouTube video)