HopeLab on Twitter: Not all types of happiness are equal. Some are better for your health than others. https://t.co/h68ZhizVnu https://t.co/yuNS0ksXfO Follow
Kevin Neilson

6 Reasons Why Purpose Is Good For Your Health

May 13, 2015

1. Longer life.
Having a strong purpose in life is correlated with lower risk of mortality, disability, and Alzheimer’s disease.


2. Less stress. Living life in a full and satisfying way is correlated with lower stress.


3. Less inflammation. Living a meaningful and purposeful life is correlated with less chronic inflammation.


4. Pro HDL. Living with purpose and meaning is correlated with higher levels of “good” cholesterol.


5. Sweet dreams. Living life in a full and satisfying way is correlated with improved REM sleep.


6. Unlock potential. Living life with meaning and purpose can help improve your engagement and performance at work.


Fredrickson, B.L. et al. (2013) (Online references: 1, 2, 3, & 4)
Ryff, C.D., Singer, B.H., & Love, G.D. (2004)
Wrzesniewski, A., Dutton, J.E., & Debebe, G. (2003)

Janxin Leu

One Word Holds the Key to Health and Happiness

April 6, 2015


Eudaimonia: if the word is new to you, it might sound like a style of electronic dance music or a pharmaceutical. No, eudaimonia can’t be downloaded from the cloud or packaged in a pill. But eudaimonia is a remarkable type of experience that can improve health and well-being, for yourself and others.

Sounds important, right? It is.

What is eudaimonia?

Definitions of eudaimonia date back to ancient philosophers. According to Plato and Aristotle, eudaimonia is the sense of living life in a full and deeply satisfying way, beyond fleeting emotional states. Think of it this way, if you answer “yes” to the question, “Am I living in alignment with my values and purpose?” you’ve certainly had a eudaimonic experience or two. Aristotle considers eudaimonia the highest human achievement. The ultimate goal of existence, he believes, is human flourishing.

Now, most of us are quite familiar with a different kind of happiness: hedonia, or the sense of satisfaction that comes from the pursuit of pleasure.[1] When we answer “yes” to the question, “Are my needs and wants being met right now?” we’re often having a moment of hedonistic satisfaction. Like eudaimonia, hedonia delivers a certain type of happiness that can be rewarding. But science suggests that the effects of hedonia on our health and well-being are different than the effects of eudaimonia. More on that in a bit.

Mixing the two

Although eudaimonia and hedonia are different, they’re highly correlated experiences, which often overlap in interesting ways.[2] Eating a piece of cake might put a smile on your face, but it’s not terribly meaningful in the long run. On the other hand, eating a piece of cake in celebration of a friend can be a deeply satisfying experience, one that’s more meaningful than simply feeling good.

Eudaimonia doesn’t always relate to happiness in the moment. Navigating difficulties and challenges in life—struggling through a job search, nursing a sick relative, studying for a tough exam—can connect us to a satisfying sense of meaning and purpose during tough times. Intriguingly, there’s evidence that eudaimonic experiences, even when they’re uncomfortable, can be good for your health.

The health benefits of eudaimonia

As researchers explore the connection between psychology and biology, scientific evidence increasingly points to the health benefits of eudaimonia. People with a greater sense of purpose and meaning in life report greater life satisfaction, stronger emotional ties with others, and less stress, anxiety, and depression.[3] Clearly, eudaimonia is good for your mental health.

But the benefits of eudaimonia stretch even further, affecting not just your state of mind but even your physical health at the genetic level. Research suggests that eudaimonia, compared to hedonia, is associated with less inflammation in the body, lower levels of stress hormones, better sleep, healthier weight, and lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease.  [4] , [5]  Not only is eudaimonia good for your well-being, it’s good for your physical health, too.

So if you’re going to chase one type of experience—eudaimonia or hedonia—choose eudaimonia.

Your mind and body will be more resilient for it.

Originally published on Huffington Post 

[1] Ryff, C. D., Singer, B. H., & Love, G. D. (2004). Positive health: connecting well-being with biology. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 359, 1383-1394.

[2] Baumeister, R. F., Vohs, K. D., Aaker, J. L., & Garbinsky, E. N. (2013). Some Key Differences between a Happy Life and a Meaningful Life. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 8(6), 505-516.

[3] Zika, S., & Chamberlain, K. (1992). On the relation between meaning in life and psychological well-being. British Journal of Psychology, 83, 133-145.

[4] Ryff, C. D., Singer, B. H., & Love, G. D. (2004). Positive health: connecting well-being with biology. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 359, 1383-1394.

[5] Frederickson et al. (2014). A functional genomic perspective on human well-being. PNAS, 110(33), 13684-89.

Kevin Neilson

Top 10 Health Findings of 2013

January 15, 2014

resilienceBuilding on our legacy work in cancer (Re-Mission and Re-Mission 2) and obesity (Zamzee), HopeLab is increasingly focusing its efforts on resilience. We’re investigating ways to help people bounce back from adversity, improving both their psychological and physical health.

We know that psychology — i.e., our happiness, anxiety and stress, for instance — impacts health and well-being at a very fundamental level. (Ever gotten a nasty cold or the flu because you were stressed out or worried?) At HopeLab we’re trying to understand the connections between mental states and the physical body. It’s part of our strategy to design products that support healthy responses to life’s challenges, for individuals and communities.

If this sound ambitious, it is. But given the existing conditions of health and well-being in the U.S., a good thoughtful dose of ambition is exactly what’s needed.

Gallup’s top 10 health findings

Last month, Gallup editors named the top 10 most important health findings of 2013. Because they have a bearing on HopeLab’s work, I was eager to share some of them with you.

Unemployment — The single strongest predictor of depression is unemployment, being out of a job yet desiring work. This correlation holds up across all major demographics, from age and gender, to income, education, race and beyond.

Obesity — The adult obesity rate is trending upward across nearly all demographic groups and will likely surpass previously existing rates since Gallup and Healthways began tracking adult obesity in 2008.

Disengagement — Disengaged workers are 15% more likely to smoke. “Workers who smoke cost the U.S. economy $278 billion annually.”

Engagement — Employees who are engaged at work are more likely to report eating healthier, exercising more, and consuming more fruits and veggies than employees who are disengaged.

Exercise — Lack of exercise has a stronger link to obesity than eating habits and 25 other behavioral factors. This relationship is true across all major demographics.

You can see the complete list of Gallup’s findings here.

Stay tuned!

In the coming months, we’ll be sharing our resilience work and hope you tune in (and chime in!) here on the blog and elsewhere, like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Kevin Neilson

Why Purpose is a Prescription for Health

December 16, 2013

dung beetle

Believe it or not, the royal road to happiness is purpose.

Last week Dr. Victor J. Strecher visited HopeLab as part of our guest speaker series. He shared his scientific work and an incredibly personal and moving story, about the death of his daughter, a vivid dream, and the birth of a new goal. Vic is the author of On Purpose, a beautifully illustrated graphic novel that takes readers on a one-of-a-kind journey, and the creator of dungbeetle.org, a free website that helps people discover their purpose in a highly interactive and creative way. The mobile app is equally fantastic. After Vic’s presentation, he and I talked about the things that matter most: purpose, happiness and self-transcendence. Once you’ve read the interview and explored the app, you’ll never look at the mating habits of dung beetles the same way again. I promise you.

HopeLab: How did you land on the idea that a sense of purpose is key to health and well-being?

Vic: I kind of backed into it. I was exploring questions like, “Why are people so defensive? And how do you reduce defensiveness?” Our modern research of behavior change, my own included, have given us useful but, in my opinion, somewhat shallow perspectives on why and how people make significant changes in their lives.

julia and vic

I also wanted to explore these questions from the perspectives of philosophy and religion as well as from science. This deep dive into the rabbit hole led me to the concept of the ego, which of course goes back thousands of years. Ego defense connected to Dr. Jennifer Crocker’s recent research on self-affirmation through the elaboration of core values and transcendence of ego as a way to reduce defensiveness. I was also impressed by the effectiveness of creating a discrepancy between a client’s core values and behavior used in Motivational Interviewing.

The approach Dr. James Loehr takes in his Human Performance Institute is to connect core values to a life “mission” or purpose. I started thinking about this connection three years ago as I had recently lost one of my primary life purposes when my 19-year-old daughter Julia died. The dots started to connect both personally and professionally as I learned more about core values affirmation, self-transcendence, ego, and life purpose. There is an emerging science but also an intriguing ancient philosophy to these concepts! This exploration, and my own efforts to “re-purpose” myself, was healing and I emerged from this rabbit hole with a commitment to help others find authentic purpose in their lives.

HopeLab: What are some facts about purpose that might astonish people?

Vic: People are amazed when they learn that having a strong purpose in life is associated with lower risk of Alzheimer’s Disease, heart attack, and stroke. Even with the repair of your DNA! People with a strong purpose are happier, more resilient, less likely to stereotype individuals, and even have better sex. What if a drug did those things? It would be the biggest selling drug in history. It would be in our drinking water.

HopeLab: Not everyone is guided by moral purposes. Some purposes are amoral or fundamentally immoral. Do the tyrant, cult leader, and psychopath derive health benefits from their purposes?

Vic: I’ve thought about this a lot. As my Dean likes to ask me: “Didn’t Hitler have a strong purpose?” I think there may be two directions in responding to this question. The first is that self-transcending values appear to act very differently than self-enhancing values. Self-enhancing values related to power, wealth, and attractiveness have been shown to result in greater ill-being (physical and psychological) while self-transcending values create greater well-being. We’re starting to explore how these two types of values are processed cognitively using functional magnetic resonance imaging. The other direction to the answer is that it seems advisable to have a purpose that “does no harm.”

HopeLab: Thank you, Vic, for visiting us today, for the presentation you gave earlier and your time just now. It’s been wonderful.

Vic: Thank you! My pleasure, really.

Kevin Neilson

How Stress Affects the Body

November 12, 2013

d91c4350bfd9ba2b3cf74928bcbbf406Stress is a common feature of daily life.

In small doses, even moderate doses, stress can be good for us. Stress can energize us for action and sharpen our focus. But prolonged stress can be disastrous to our long-term health.

In a new study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, researchers show that chronic stress impacts our bodies at the genetic level, putting our systems into a state of hyper-vigilance against a threat or trauma even when none exists. In fact, chronic stress triggers gene expression that results in excessive inflammation, which is associated with health problems like heart disease and diabetes. Dr. Steve Cole, a UCLA researcher and head of R&D at HopeLab, conducted the research in collaboration with other scientists.

“The findings show a significant up-regulation of pro-inflammatory genes as a consequence of stress,” Dr. Cole said. “And not just experimental stress but authentic environmental stressors humans experience in everyday life.”

The study is an important reminder that chronic stress is not just a psychological experience. It works its way into our bodies, affecting our genes, our blood, and ultimately our immunity.

Our work at HopeLab focuses on understanding these types of connections between psychological experiences and physical health to inform the design of products that help people deal with the adversity of everyday life. By promoting resilient behaviors, we hope to improve long-term health and well-being. Stay tuned for updates on our work!

Related press release and media reports:

Press Release: Effects of Chronic Stress Can Be Traced to Your Genes

Medical Daily: How Happiness Affects Your Genes: Chronic Stress Primes Cells To Fight Nonexistent Infections, Causing Inflammation 

Huffington Post: Chronic Stress Changes Immune Cell Genes, Leading To Inflammation

Janxin Leu

Resilience and Renewed Purpose: Reflections from the MLOVE ConFestival

August 9, 2013

By Janxin Leu, Director of Product Innovation

I recently spoke at the 2013 MLOVE ConFestival, a celebration of mobile tech and its potential to inspire us. The event is something like a TED – Burning Man mash-up.  Even better, this particular event took place in a castle, tucked away in a German village.  Needless to say, it was an adventure.

So, why was I there? My colleague Fred and I were invited to share HopeLab’s resilience initiative with the MLOVE community.  I was going to present key empirical findings illustrating how three psychological experiences (purpose, connection, and control) can help us all bounce back from adversity.  I had a million questions heading into the event: Could I move technologists to join us in a mission to use mobile technology to help people thrive? Could I be authentic? Would I belong there?

Before joining HopeLab this year, I was a professor of psychology at the University of Washington, running my own research lab with graduate students, giving talks to scientists, and teaching undergraduates.  Fast forward a few months, and I’m on stage before a few hundred developers, designers, and thought leaders in the tech world. I felt unsure in this new role, even though I’ve given hundreds of lectures in the past.

Then right before my presentation – the opening keynote, no less – fellow speaker Jonathan MacDonald stepped on the stage to set the tone for the gathering.  He spoke of his experiences as a black boy growing up in England in the ’70s.  Of being adopted and severely bullied.  He also spoke of his rise.  From finding allies after being stabbed with a barbeque fork and losing consciousness.  To building a successful business in the music industry despite the odds, losing that business to a corrupt partner – and building it again.  The mandate Jonathan delivered to all of us present shot straight to my heart:

Keep your eyes on the main thing in your life, and keep the main thing, the main thing.

Fred and I both had tears in our eyes when Jonathan left the stage.  And that is when I felt a jolt of energy. I experienced a renewed sense of purpose for what I wanted to communicate to this community – my main thing:

I love science. I believe science can change the world and reduce human suffering.  And I love proselytizing the empirical word.

In that moment before stepping onstage, I found myself again.  And then I gave one of the most memorable talks of my life.


Happy Genes: How Positive Psychology Impacts Human Gene Expression

July 29, 2013

Your state of mind can affect your physical health – it’s the kind of thing we intuitively understand. Now science is offering some powerful new insights into this mind-body connection.


A study by researchers at UCLA’s Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology (including Steve Cole, HopeLab’s head of R&D) and the University of North Carolina shows that a good state of mind, or happiness, affects your genes. But there are different types of happiness, and these different types have different effects. According to a UCLA Newsroom post, the study found that:

“People who have high levels of what is known as eudaimonic well-being — the kind of happiness that comes from having a deep sense of purpose and meaning in life (think Mother Teresa) — showed very favorable gene-expression profiles in their immune cells. They had low levels of inflammatory gene expression and strong expression of antiviral and antibody genes. However, people who had relatively high levels of hedonic well-being — the type of happiness that comes from consummatory self-gratification (think most celebrities) — actually showed just the opposite. They had an adverse expression profile involving high inflammation and low antiviral and antibody gene expression.”

Insights like these are informing our own resilience initiative at HopeLab, as we explore ways to use technology to create psychological and social experiences that measurably improve our physical health and general well-being.


A full report on the research appears in the current online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

And you can see Dr. Cole share insights from this research at last year’s Science of Compassion: Origins, Measures, and Interventions event.


The Stupid Cancer Show Talks Tech

April 23, 2013

The folks at the  Stupid Cancer Show recently devoted an entire episode to Gaming and the ePatient Revolution. You can listen here.

I get to do some fun stuff as head of communications at HopeLab, and being a guest on this show (twice now!) is always a blast. This time, I gave some inside scoop on our new Re-Mission 2 games.

Host Matthew Zachary and the whole Stupid Cancer team take on issues facing young-adult cancer patients with a sense of humor and a serious commitment to advocating for more research and better social support for young adult cancer survivors.

We’re looking forward to continuing the conversation on how technology are radically transforming the landscape of cancer support and advocacy, from social media to online cancer support communities to games like Re-Mission 2. We’ll be at Stupid Cancer’s OMG Summit in Vegas to demo the games and participate in live panel discussion, also titled Gaming and the ePatient Revolution. If you’re at the summit, come find us and say hello!


Game Time at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital

April 23, 2013

Last week the HopeLab team packed up our laptops and headed over to Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital (LPCH) down the road in Palo Alto to share Re-Mission 2 games with patients and hospital staff.  On hand were some of the young people with cancer who helped us design the games by offering input on characters and gameplay to help us amp up the fun factor.

Were the kids as excited about the finished games as we are? Seems so!

The mom of one young man who was particularly involved in Re-Mission 2 game development said, “He’s just wrapped up his treatment, and this was literally the first week in two and half years we didn’t have to be at the hospital for an appointment. And then he heard about this event, and he insisted on coming!”

The event gave us a chance to say thank you to the kids and hospital staff who helped make Re-Mission 2 possible. We could not have done it with out them. In fact, HopeLab and LPCH go way back – the oncology staff at the hospital were early supporters of the original Re-Mission game, and LPCH was one of the sites for the Re-Mission Outcomes Study. We were thrilled to have them back on board, along with a number of other hospitals across the country, to help make Re-Mission 2 a reality.

Once again, thanks to everyone at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital for all your enthusiasm and support. Play on!


Zamzee Hits the Stage at Health 2.0

November 12, 2010

Wow. The fall conference season was a whirlwind of activity – can you relate? By the time I landed back in the office this month, my coat pockets stuffed with business cards and boarding passes, most of it was a blur. But a highlight for me was presenting Zamzee at the annual Health 2.0 conference in San Francisco, organized by health care  futurists Matthew Holt, Indu Subaiya and team. Matthew and Indu are great folks who consistently bring together a fascinating mix of people who are pushing the envelope of health care and technology. It’s serious work presented with a sense of fun and good humor.

The session I was part of — Behavior Change, Health 2.0 & the Unmentionables — featured work on a wide range of health topics, from unplanned pregnancy to obesity, with commentary from the fabulous Susannah Fox (director at Pew Internet & American Life Project), Thomas Goetz (Wired editor, author of The Decision Tree)and others.  Good stuff, and lots of fun – and most of it caught on tape!

Here’s video of my talk on Zamzee; check the Health 2.0 site for more.