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Following Jesus Causes Your Cells to Respond in Healthy Ways – EDITED

August 2, AD 2013 16 Comments
James Tissot (1836--1902)

“Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”

Researchers at the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences about how human cells respond in healthy and unhealthy ways to different kinds of “happiness”.

Scientists believe the biological basis for this is genetic. Have you ever heard of those studies that show how if you are under chronic stress, you are more likely to experience decreased physical and mental health? Under stress, the expression of genes that protect you from inflammation and viruses are affected so that your body is less able to fight them, and in turn you are more susceptible to ills such as arthritis, heart disease, and infections.

In other words, chronic stress makes you more at risk for illness.

These researchers found the same to be true for “hedonic” pleasure. Hedonic pleasure is pleasure that is instantly gratuitous, for example, over-eating, sex on demand, obsessive spending, partying…you get the idea, a self-centered life of instant gratification (me, me, me and I want, I want, I want). Hedonistic pleasure is the pleasure of the senses.

It appears that a hedonistic lifestyle puts you at risk the same way chronic stress does. Your cells respond badly, and you are more susceptible to disease.

Yet they found that “eudaimonic” pleasure goes the opposite direction. What is eudaimonic [u-DY-moh-nick] pleasure? It’s a deeper form of pleasure beyond the senses. According to the lead researcher, Barbara L. Fredrickson, Kenan Distinguished Professor of psychology, it’s the pleasure that “results from striving toward meaning and a noble purpose beyond simple self-gratification,” for example, “feeling connected to a larger community through a service project.”

They say “eudaimonic pleasure”, but you could also say “Christian virtue”.

For at least 200 years Christianity has warned against modernist philosophies that put the focus on individual sentiment and personal experience, philosophies that shake the foundations of societies, such as, materialism, pragmatism, subjectivism, relativism, and hedonism.

These philosophies put too much emphasis on personal pleasure and less emphasis on serving your fellow citizens and the common good.

Christ taught that the goal of the Christian life is to grow in virtue, to love God with all your heart and to love others as yourself. This has been the teaching of Christianity for over 2,000 years, and it was the teaching of Judaism before that. See the Ten Commandments.

God told us to pursue virtue because God created us in His image and made us for communion. The practice of virtue is how we achieve communion with each other and with the Trinitarian God who is perfect charity and community.

Are our cells even telling us that we are made for communion, to love our neighbor as we love ourselves? It appears so. Following Jesus can cause your cells to respond in healthy ways.

Remember Christ’s teaching?

Master, which commandment in the law is the greatest? Jesus said to him, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart and thy whole soul and thy whole mind. This is the greatest of the commandments, and the first. And the second, its like, is this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments, all the law and the prophets depend.” Matthew 22:36-40

That must include physical law as well. It just makes sense that virtuous living would be healthier, but it’s fun to see scientific validation at the cellular level.


Image: The Exhortation to the Apostles, James Tissot (1836–1902)


EDIT: The title is a light-hearted twist on the title at ScienceDaily, Human Cells Respond in Healthy, Unhealthy Ways to Different Kinds of Happiness. It is not to be taken as literal. Another way to say it is that the data indicates that hedonistic pleasure has the same affect on certain genes as stress does, likely making a person more susceptible to certain diseases.

Hello, and thank you for reading. I am a wife, mother of seven, and joyful convert to Catholicism. I write from my office in a 100-year-old restored Adirondack mountain lodge. Read more about me here, with pictures. Find me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter. "Like" my Facebook page Science Was Born of Christianity to follow updates about my book. God bless you!

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  • Dominic de Souza

    Hedonism is killing us? Whodathunkit… ;-) So going crunchy won’t save you, or even get you feeling better. Hence the monks with impossible life spans.Thanks Stacy!

  • John Janaro

    Its great when science verifies common sense. Which often happens in the realm of human behavior, provided that the science sticks to its method. Good stuff, Stacy!

  • Jeni

    I’m so pleased you wrote this post. I read that article when it was published and thought, well gee, that smacks of Christian ethics… :) I love how science continually confirms Christianity & Catholic teaching!

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  • Ez

    That doesn’t explain why I, a mum of 3 young girls, loving wife, practising Catholic, is going to undergo Chemo for Hodgkinson Lymphoma this coming Thursday.

    Sorry Stacey, but I normally like your articles, but this one annoyed the crap out of me!

    It’s stupid science ignoring the reality of human suffering (something God allows for everyone), and fooling people into believing they can control their world. It’s saying that if you follow Jesus, you will be healthy.

    What rubbish.

    • Stacy Trasancos

      EZ, Please accept my sincere apology for offending you. We will lift you and your family up in prayer. I’m sorry.

      • VelikaBuna

        Lift you up? Seriously.

        • Stacy Trasancos

          A very dear friend once used that phrase when I was suffering, and I appreciated it a great deal. By that choice of words, she acknowledged that she couldn’t possibly understand all the pain I was suffering emotionally and physically, but that she prayed for me nonetheless. And when I was at my lowest, so low I couldn’t even pray myself, yes, it did help to think that I was being lifted because people were praying for me.

          It never would have occurred to me to snark back at her.

          • VelikaBuna

            That is a protestant term. We Catholics pray for people don’t lift them up. That was the crux of my comment.

          • Paul Rimmer

            The reason is that Catholics don’t have the necessary upper body strength that Protestants do. ;)

          • VelikaBuna

            Hahahaha, I guess there are people nobody could lift up.

          • Stacy Trasancos

            Of course, of course, of course…buncha literalists.


  • carmel

    Yes, but please don’t forget those saints who died of cancer or tuberculosis or the hundreds of maladies that fallen man is heir to. The Cross in Christian life is non-negotiable and taking it up and following Him is the only guarantee to eternal health, the only kind worth having.

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  • JS Frederick

    It seems our consumerist culture *makes us stressed.* We stress ourselves out by comparing oneself to the portrayals in the media, or the lifestyles of the super wealthy.

    God is the Summum Bonum, the Ultimate Good. There’s a lot of peace and (at least mental) health to be gained by focusing on God. “Seek ye first the KIngdom of Heaven…”

  • ariofrio

    This science doesn’t tell us that Jesus, or eudamonia, guarantees health. According to this research, eudamonia is merely likely to cause better health. Some people were confused. :-)