Science Supports Theology of the Body: Your Happiness Type is Expressed in Your Genes

The Theology of the Body tells us that each person was made for self donation and that if we want to be happy, we need to make a gift of ourselves.   It further tells us that when we treat others, or ourselves, as objects of pleasure, we break down spiritually and emotionally because we are acting in a manner that is inconsistent with God’s plan and our design.    This sounds like a lovely theological speculation, but what if it was physiologically true as well?

This week, researchers at UCLA  demonstrated that the type of happiness you pursue in life effect your overall well-being on a genetic level.   That is not to say that the level of happiness you experience is genetic, but rather the kinds of happiness you seek in life actually effect you on a genetic level.

Researchers discovered that people who, as a matter of habit, chase after “hedonic happiness”  (the pleasure that comes from partying, sex, overeating, drinking, etc.) show physical evidence of gene expression that resulted in higher inflammatory response and the lower production of anti-viral and antibodies in their immune cells.  This response is similar to the physiological response of depressed or exhausted individuals.

By contrast, people who pursue, as a matter of habit, “eudaimonic happiness”  (happiness that comes from pursuing the greater good) show physical evidence of gene expression that resulted in less inflammation and a stronger immune response (i.e., higher production of antiviral and antibodies in their immune cells).    This particular pattern of gene expression is associated with better physical well-being and overall good health.

The truly surprising thing was that both groups claimed to feel good.  Both groups claimed to be happy and well, but only the people who habitually pursued the greater good experienced  the good health–all the way down to the genetic level– that ought to accompany their happiness.

In the words of the researchers…


And while those with eudaimonic well-being showed favorable gene-expression profiles in their immune cells and those with hedonic well-being showed an adverse gene-expression profile, “people with high levels of hedonic well-being didn’t feel any worse than those with high levels of eudaimonic well-being,” Cole said. “Both seemed to have the same high levels of positive emotion. However, their genomes were responding very differently even though their emotional states were similarly positive.    What this study tells us is that doing good and feeling good have very different effects on the human genome, even though they generate similar levels of positive emotion,” he said. “Apparently, the human genome is much more sensitive to different ways of achieving happiness than are conscious minds.”

St Thomas Aquinas talked about the “two books” that reveal truth; the “books” of nature and revelation.  Something that is true in one “book” cannot be contradicted by the other.  Faith and reason should go together.  That’s why I’m so excited when I can point to studies that show the clear link between these two sources of truth.  Pope John Paul II proposed the Theology of the Body as a vision for how we are to live, but living according to that vision is only good if it can be shown to help us achieve our potential as human persons–as he claims it should.  Research like this demonstrates that JPII’s claims hold up not just to theological debate, but scientific investigation as well.   The Theology of the Body is not just theological speculation.  It’s assertions, particularly the idea that we can only discover God’s plan for our lives and true happiness by making a generous gift of ourselves and living in mutually self-donative relationships, are true on every level, including–as you might expect for a theology of the body–the physical level.

To learn more about how you can increase the happiness in your life, contact the Pastoral Solutions Institute’s Tele-Counseling Service  (740-266-6461).  You can work with a faithful, professional, Catholic counselor to help you experience more joy in your marriage, family, or personal life.

COMING WED on More2Life Radio–Setting Limits Kids Will Listen To

Coming ­Wednesday on More2Life:  Setting Limits Kids will Listen To:  Parenting involves setting limits but kids often push back.  We’ll look at how to make rules that kids will respect.

Plus, Tabor Life Institute’s Fr. Thomas Loya will help parents set healthy limits around media and friends.

Call in at 877-573-7825 from Noon-1 Eastern (11-Noon Central) with your questions about making rules your kids will respect.

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WIN A FREE BOOK in our SUMMER BOOK GIVEAWAY!  (Details below).

Q of the D:  (Answer  to win!)   *What are the hardest rules to enforce with your kids?


*Win a free book!  Every day you respond to the question of the day your name will be entered in a radio drawing to win a free book from the Popcak Catholic Living Library (over 10 titles in all)!  Again, each day that you respond you will get another chance at winning a free book in the drawing held at the end of each week on More2Life Radio.

This week’s featured title is:  God Help Me, These People Are Driving Me Nuts!  Making Peace with Difficult People.  –Do you have demanding, time-sucking, needy, or nasty people in your life who make your days more difficult than they need to be?  God Help Me, These People Are Driving Me Nuts will empower you to set charitable limits, make your needs known, and gain more peace in your life.  Practical examples, case studies, and tons of great tips will help you master the art of dealing gracefully with difficult people.

Winners will be announced on air and contacted by FB message following the drawing this THURSDAY, August 1

“What’s that? Post-Abortion Syndrome May Exist…? Nevermind.”

This month, many secular psychologists are having an Emily Litella moment.

Prevailing professional “wisdom” on the link between abortion and subsequent psychological problems is that there is none.   The official position of the American Psychological Association is, “Nothing to see here, folks, let’s all just move along shall we?”

Well, things are not quite as clear cut as the APA might like you to believe.  First, in 2008, a 30 year longitudinal study of 500 women found that post-abortive women had about a 30% higher likelihood of subsequent mental problems than non-abortive women (the “attributable risk” estimate of 1.5-5.5% is a less reliable statistic that attempts to calculate how much abortion, itself, without considering any other factor, contributes to mental health problems.  It is a deceptively small percentage because  so many factors influence mental health that almost all such analyses yield very small numbers.)

Now, the July issue of Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences describes a review of all abortion and mental health literature between 1995 and 2011.  Their findings?  Out of 36 studies reviewed, 13 found post-abortive women at higher risk of depression, anxiety, or substance abuse.  The review also found  that while short-term anxiety and depression were more common among women who miscarried than women who had abortions, longer term anxiety and depression were much more common among post-abortive women than women who miscarried.  That makes sense considering that factors surrounding each set of circumstances (i.e., in miscarriage, women are encouraged to grieve.  With abortion, women are told they have nothing to grieve.  It takes time for the denial to wear off and the emotional disturbance to be recognized.)

The researchers conclude by saying that more research needs to be done.  That’s true.  It would just be nice if the professional organizations would stop issuing politically motivated statements until all the data is in.

By the way, that incredible silence you hear?  That’s the media rushing to cover this story.



Got Milk? Breastfeeding May Prevent ADHD, Study Says.

Researchers found a clear link between rates of breastfeeding and the likelihood of developing ADHD, even when typical risk factors were taken into consideration.

Children who were bottle-fed at three months of age were found to be three times more likely to have ADHD than those who were breastfed during the same period.  

The ADHD group was comprised of children that had been diagnosed at the hospital, the second group included the siblings of the ADHD patients, and the control group included children without neurobehavioral issues who had been treated at the clinics for unrelated complaints.

In addition to describing their breastfeeding habits during the first year of their child’s life, parents answered a detailed questionnaire on medical and demographic data that might also have an impact on the development of ADHD, including marital status and education of the parents, problems during pregnancy such as hypertension or diabetes, birth weight of the child, and genetic links to ADHD.

Taking all risk factors into account, researchers found that children with ADHD were far less likely to be breastfed in their first year of life than the children in the other groups.

At three months, only 43 percent of children in the ADHD group were breastfed compared to 69 percent of the sibling group and 73 percent of the control group. At six months, 29 percent of the ADHD group was breastfed, compared to 50 percent of the sibling group and 57 percent of the control group.

I have often argued that much of what is being called ADHD today has more to do with attachment related issues.  Healthy parent-child attachment isn’t just a warm-fuzzy psychological bond.  It facilitates the development of healthy brain functioning.  As I point out here, brain-wise parenting practices such as extended nursing, extravagant affection, prompt responses to infant and toddler cries, and gentle discipline that teaches what to do vs. punishes what went wrong facilitates 8 of the 9 traits associated with mental health.  Attachment makes a real difference.  It requires a little more from moms and dads but it makes life so much easier in the long run.

Husband Posts Wife’s AMAZING Tantrum on YouTube


Believe it or not, I encounter this kind of behavior in marriage therapy all the time.

People seem to think that anger is the gift we give to other people, but it isn’t.   Your anger is God’s gift to you, not anyone else.  Anger is the emotional response to a perceived injustice.  The healthy response to anger is to (1) identify the trigger for the anger (2) take a few moments to pray and think about a possible solution to the problem  (3) only then approach your partner by leading with this solution instead of your emotions (e.g., “I know you needed to rotate the tires this weekend, but I really miss going to the lake.  Can we look at the calendar and figure out a way to get both done?”  VS. what you see on the video. )   Emotions like anger are suppose to draw your attention to the problem and challenge you to identify solutions.  They are not for “motivating” other people to solve your problems for you.

In a CNN interview about this video, the husband stated that he tried to handle things between the two of them for over a year but the wife refused to go to marriage counseling with him–up to and including standing in the front door of the marriage counselor’s office and refusing to go in.    (One more reason phone therapy is a great idea.  It’s harder for your spouse to avoid it!  😉

So, what do you think?   Was the husband right or wrong?  Would you ever do something like this?  Post your comments below.

And incidentally, if your spouse is driving you CRAAAAAAAZZZZYYY, before you post your video to YouTube, give us a call (740-266-6461).  The Pastoral Solutions Institute’s Catholic Tele-counseling Practice can help you heal your marriage.

“Do We HAVE To?” Natural Family Planning and the Reluctant Couple

My latest article for the Couple to Couple League’s Family Foundations magazine (What?  You don’t subscribe?)  deals with those couples who come to Natural Family Planning with a less than open heart.  Here’s a sneak peak.

The Resentful Couple

 Dr. Gregory K. Popcak

There are a lot of couples who come to Natural Family Planning…reluctantly.  Even resentfully.  As more dioceses require NFP training, many couples approach their classes a little like a root canal, but with less enthusiasm.

It’s easy to understand.  Catechized by friends, family, and the media who all think the Catholic Church hates sex–unless it’s being used to keep a woman barefoot and pregnant–many couples don’t believe the Church has anything good, much less useful or interesting, to say about sex.

If you are one of those couples.  Welcome.  We get it.  Many of us have been there.  But let me share something with you that your friends, family, and the media don’t know.  Your Bishop has asked you to take these NFP classes because the Catholic Church–in fact, God–wants you to have an amazing sex life that will only become more passionate the longer you are married.

Did I make you laugh?  Did I offend you?  I thought I saw you roll your eyes.  Go ahead.  Get it out of your system, but I’m not joking and I’m not trying to provoke you.  In fact, in July of 2013, US News & World Report ran an article with the headline, Devout Catholics Have Better Sex, Study Says.   The article noted that, according to decades of research, devout Catholics have sex more frequently, are more likely to take their sex lives seriously, and are more comfortable with the idea of sexual pleasure than any other demographic–religious or not.  Here’s why.

1.  Catholic Sex = Whole Sex.

In my book, Holy Sex! A Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infallible Loving  (cited in the US News article as a helpful resource for couples) I list research showing that to have a satisfying sexual relationship, you have to bring your whole self (physical, relational, spiritual) to the experience.  You have to be comfortable with your body (the physical dimension).  You have to be an effective communicator (the relational dimension), and you have to understand the spiritual dimension of sex as well.  Leaving out any one of these three dimensions makes sex less interesting and less pleasurable.  Devout Catholics, especially those using NFP, are prepared to bring all three of these dimensions to their marital sexuality.

Because of charting, NFP couples are intimately aware of the body, how it works, and why it’s beautiful.  NFP helps couples overcome squeamishness about their bodies.  Likewise, NFP couples are challenged to communicate on a deeper level than other couples about the nature of their desire for each other, for children, and for other needs and concerns.  Finally, NFP couples realize that sex isn’t just a physical act but a spiritual one.

2.  Catholic Sex = Holy Sex.

Devout Catholics know that sex is spiritual because we know that God wants to use our sexual relationship as a physical sign of the passionate way he loves us.  As Pope Benedict XVI wrote in God is Love, when couples keep the spiritual dimension of their sexuality in mind, their sexual love for one another can help them “rise in ecstasy toward the Divine.”    In the Bible, the Song of Songs isn’t just a beautiful love poem between a bride and a bridegroom, it is a story about the passionate love God holds in his heart for us.  Sexual love is intended to be hint of (albeit an analogous one) the ecstatic joy we will all experience when we are one with God in the Eternal Wedding Feast.

Similarly, even secular sex researchers note that having a good sexual relationship tends to make couples work harder to be better people outside the bedroom.  They are inspired by their passion to be less selfish, more caretaking, more thoughtful, more generous.  Devout Catholics are better lovers because we understand that sex isn’t just about sex.  It’s ultimately about becoming better, more passionate, more authentically loving people and the joy we experience in the bedroom is a sign of that effort we make 24/7 to become what God is calling us to be.

3.  Catholic Sex = Intimate Sex

Sex should be deeply intimate.  But a lot of people have sex that isn’t intimate at all.  They keep things from each other.  They are afraid of being truly vulnerable, truly transparent, so they play a role.  They act like great lovers, but inside, they feel lonely.  The very act that should unite them makes them feel more isolated than ever.

Devout Catholics know how to break through this wall.   Because they know that being great lovers doesn’t just refer to what goes on inside the bedroom but also to how they relate to each other all day long, they make a conscious effort take better care of each other in every aspect of their lives.  Research by the Gottman Relationship Institute shows that caretaking makes it easier for such couples to let down their guard, to be vulnerable  in healthy ways, and to really connect in all areas of their relationship–especially lovemaking.

Still Resentful?

Is getting to those NFP classes inconvenient?  Sure.  Is talking about all this stuff awkward?  At first, yes.  Is going to Church-sponsored sex classes just plain weird?  It sure can feel that way.   But consider this.  Maybe the Church really isn’t doing this because it wants to meddle in your life.  Maybe the Church really does want to help you experience all the passion and love God wants to give you. Maybe the Church really does have something to say that your friends, family, and most of the media doesn’t have the first clue about.  US News & World Report seems to think so.  Maybe you should too.

Dr. Greg Popcak is the author of Holy Sex! The Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infallible Loving and the director of the Pastoral Solutions Institute which offers Catholic telephone counseling for couples, individuals and families.  Contact him at or call 740-266-6461 for more information.

Children: Eyes that Enable Us to See the Future

In his comments at his reception by the Brazilian President, the Holy Father challenged all adults to care for children who represent the eyes through which we see the future.

Here it is common for parents to say, “Our children are the apple of our eyes”. How beautiful is this expression of Brazilian wisdom, which applies to young people an image drawn from our eyes, which are the window through which light enters into us, granting us the miracle of sight! What would become of us if we didn’t look after our eyes? How could we move forward? I hope that, during this week, each one of us will ask ourselves this thought-provoking question. Young people are the window through which the future enters the world, thus presenting us with great challenges. Our generation will show that it can realize the promise found in each young person when we know how to give them space; how to create the material and spiritual conditions for their full development; how to give them a solid basis on which to build their lives; how to guarantee their safety and their education to be everything they can be; how to pass on to them lasting values that make life worth living; how to give them a transcendent horizon for their thirst for authentic happiness and their creativity for the good; how to give them the legacy of a world worthy of human life; and how to awaken in them their greatest potential as builders of their own destiny, sharing responsibility for the future of everyone.

“God is in the Pots and Pans”– Finding God in the Domestic Church

Catholics refer to the family as the “Domestic Church” but it would be easy to experience this as a spiritually antiseptic phrase requiring families to be perfectly peaceful, perfectly quiet (and to borrow a phrase from Mary Poppins) practically perfect in every way.

It can be hard to relate to that image of the family.  It seems too remote.  Too impossible.  Too lofty,  but it doesn’t have to be.   I think the problem is that most of us think of church in too idealized a way which makes the notion of a domestic church all the more inaccessible.  In general, we can use the word, “church” in two senses.  The first is the ideal sense of the Church as the Family of God, Body of Christ, presence of God in the world.  That’s the way most of us think of it, and that is quite a beautiful, true, and good way to view it.

But there is another sense of the word “church”.  This second sense is the more realistic, lived sense of church as a group of people who often don’t get along very well, sometimes don’t like each other very much, and usually irritate each other in a million different ways–but are all making a journey to God and sometimes managing to help each other in spite of it all!  That’s what GOD’S family looks like, so maybe you don’t have to feel so bad about yours.

We tend to want to think of the domestic church in that first sense of Church too.  We only think that God is reaching into our homes when everything is quiet and peaceful and prayerful, but I think this second sense of Church is the more realistic sense of the “Domestic Church.”  The domestic church is loud, and noisy and messy, just like the real thing, and God likes that just fine.  The Theology of the Body emphasizes that Catholicism is an incarnational faith. It is a faith that does not allow us to run away of the messiness of every day life into some antiseptic spirituality but instead challenges us to enter more deeply into the mess, just as Christ did.   This incarnational awareness of faith reminds us that God wants to use every moment–especially the messy, all-too-human-moments-to reach us with his love and grace.

Domestic Mess 0r Domestic Mass?

On More2Life Radio today, Lisa and I reflected with the Theology of the Body Institute’s Bill Donaghy on the messiness of life in the domestic church.  We explored how the domestic mess of noisy kids, and smelly diapers, and busy days, and exhausted nights is a kind of metaphorical, “domestic mass.”   The more we enter into the sacrifice of this “domestic mass” the more God’s love becomes incarnate in our homes and the more likely we experience real communion with each other and God in an authentic family life.

Our domestic church has its own smells and bells–funky laundry, clanking dishes– that, while perhaps not as pleasant as the chiming bells that call us to worship or the incense that lifts our prayers to heaven at Mass, are just as spiritually significant in their own way.  They call us to worship the incarnate God who is with us in the here and now.  St. Theresa of Avila once said, “God is in the pots and pans.”  It is that God who we experience in our messy, noisy domestic church.  It is that God we encounter in the little moments of every day life.   That God who’s grace allows us to be transformed by doing little acts of family life with great love; wiping noses, drying tears, drawing pictures,  playing games, calming fears.

We don’t need to escape our homes to find God and sanctity.  We don’t need to run away from home to pray. We need to follow Christ’s example, and empty ourselves, entering more deeply into the mystery of the domestic mess and finding the wholeness and holiness that waits for us there.

For more ideas on how to experience God in the here and now of your family life, tune in to More2Life Radio M-F  from Noon-1pm Eastern on Catholic radio, online at, and via our free AveMariaRadio IPhone/Android apps.

Overnight Stays Away from Mom Affect Attachment, Says Study.

Infants who spent at least one overnight a week away from their mothers were discovered to have more insecure attachments to them compared to babies who had fewer overnights or stayed with their father only during the day, according to the study. The researchers found that 43 percent of babies with weekly overnights were insecurely attached to their mothers, compared to 16 percent with less frequent overnights.  READ MORE