How Your Genes Can Make You Happier
When people think about genes, they tend to apply the words “good” or “bad” to them. Someone with talent or unusual beauty “must have good genes,” we say. And ourselves? Depending on how your life is going, you may thank your genes or feel victimized by them. Most of the time, however, the average person will assume that their genes are a mixture of good and bad elements. Yet this kind of thinking seriously misrepresents how genes work.
Only about 5 percent of gene mutations are fully penetrant, the term geneticists apply when a gene directly causes a disorder. Otherwise, 95 percent of genes linked to disorders act as an influence. They can sway one way or another, depending on other factors. Your biology doesn’t spell your destiny. You have many choices because “other factors” include a vast range of influences such as diet, exercise, stress management, and emotional events we take as everyday occurrences.
These influences don’t change the genes you were born with, which remain the same all your life. What changes is genetic activity, meaning the hundreds of proteins, enzymes, and other chemicals that regulate the cell. As the cell thrives, so does the entire body, and so do you. Imagine that your body is like a social network passing messages back and forth about how your day is going. These messages are received by every cell, so there is total participation even when you assume that a single event—getting a parking ticket, being yelled at, having a bout of indigestion, or being in a bad mood—is separate and isolated.
In reality, no mind-body event is isolated; therefore, genetics is being turned on its head. Instead of being fixed and locked away, our DNA is dynamic and involved. You are speaking to your genes with every thought, word, and action. Experiences are recorded and remembered at the genetic level (such markers are studied in a special field known as epigenetics, which focuses on how sections of DNA are activated or suppressed). Without going into the complexities of genetic activity, a single lesson is emerging: a person’s genes and their lifestyle form a single feedback loop.
What this means is that you have a choice of what input you want your genes to receive, and secondly, the more positive the input, the more positive the output the genes will send as a response. Tracing lifestyle choices to the genetic level is a recent, extremely exciting development. It helps to make the mind-body connection irrefutable. At the same time, it underlines how important meditation, self-care, and expanded consciousness are because these are the chief avenues of positive input.
Meditation puts you in direct contact with the source of the mind-body system, which means your thoughts have direct access to beneficial genetic activity. The effects of meditation, such as a sense of being calm, at peace, centered, and unstressed also have crucial importance to how well your cells are functioning, via the genetic activity inside the cells.
Self-care includes all areas of tending to your own well-being. Once you know that a simple action like standing up from your desk every hour sends positive input to your cells, even the smallest input becomes more important. Starting with organic foods, pure water, and clean air, then proceeding to stress management—all the way to everyday causes of negative emotions like anger and anxiety—the field of self-care is hugely optimistic because you get to be the controller of the feedback you receive from your body. Instead of seeing yourself as the victim of your body’s flaws and problems, you form a working alliance that mutually benefits you as a person and every cell in your body.
Expanded awareness opens the door to higher states of consciousness. Through meditation and self-care you unburden yourself of habits, conditioning, negative beliefs, stressful memories, and other kinds of debt to the past. As you unburden yourself, you begin to see that you are alive here and now. Everything that is truly you is expressed only in the present moment. This is the natural perspective of your cells and your genes—they don’t regret the past or anticipate the future. With this awareness, you can fully focus on being here in the now, and as this attitude matures, all the elements of a happy life are nourished, including love, intelligence, creativity, and personal growth.
In some ways what I’ve been discussing is simply a new format for age-old wisdom. The program for achieving happiness through one’s state of awareness isn’t new. What’s new is the reassurance offered by knowing that no effort, however small, is wasted. Your entire lifestyle is recognized at the genetic level, and the more you improve it, the more beneficial the response you will receive.
Super Genes co-authored by Dr. Deepak Chopra and Rudi Tanzi, PhD, is now available.