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Happiness is a true wealth, which no money can buy?

Although it is true that money cannot buy happiness, the research focuses on the impact of a harsh environment devoid of stimulation and so many risks, along with neglect and lack of support, on children's pathological development. Because of the severe social and personal consequences, Mahatma Gandhi, the man of Indian spirit and politics, exaggerated, stating that "poor [therefore the hard environment] is the worst sort of violence." However, severe negative repercussions for a neglected and/or resource-poor primary environment do not always imply that a resource-rich environment will lead to better and healthier development.

Is it true that a rich environment leads to healthy development and happiness? I spoke with Sarah Merrill of the University of British Columbia in Canada, who just released a research on "social epigenetics," to provide an answer to this question.

The harmful effects of a stressful primary environment are frequently highlighted in research and the media. You mentioned the importance of "enriching environments" in a recent publication. Can you give an example of a stimulating setting?

What a great question! These enriching environments have protective effects on children's development and contribute to their healthy development. One example is an environment that gives support and social nurturing, such as caregivers who optimally respond to the child's needs. Access to a green environment or living in a location that provides a wide variety of foods are two further examples of enriching surroundings.

Your article suggests that enriching environments travel "under the skin." Could you provide an example of a similar process from one of the studies you referenced in the article?

Indeed, for example, stress resulting from being a member of a minority group (e.g., blacks in the United States or the population of Ethiopian immigrants in Israel) penetrates beneath the skin. According to one of the studies cited in the article, it is assimilated into human biology in the form of biological age acceleration. Methylation markers are a type of epigenetic indicator.

Acceleration of biological age means faster-aging processes and more significant health issues, such as an increased risk of developing cancers or vascular diseases. However, the study also revealed that if a person has received support and love from caring figures, especially in the earliest years of life, the biological age of minority groups is moderately accelerated. As a result, while challenging circumstances may accelerate our biological age, an enriching social environment prevents this from happening.

Hmmm... that's an intriguing finding. Can you describe the implications of these findings and how a supportive family environment protects against aging and biological age acceleration?

These findings show that our experiences travel past our skin, causing external events to accelerate our biological age, potentially leading to aging, premature death, and a higher risk of diseases like heart disease. As a result, the acceleration of biological age as measured by epigenetic characteristics is a sign of combined total health risk, implying that if a person's biological age exceeds his chronological age (years of life), his health is not stable, and he is likely to develop a variety of health problems in the future. This process is avoided if the person lives in an enriched and supportive environment, even if he has had experiences that have encouraged him to increase his biological age. Enriching surroundings, in other words, operate as a buffer against harmful biological processes.

Given your knowledge of enriching environments, what is the message from your article to expecting parents?

The article's central message for future parents is that, beyond the fact that enriching environments contribute to the growth of all children, enriched settings can also safeguard children from risks and incidents over which parents have no control. As a result, our responsibility as parents is to provide a safe, healthy, and supportive environment for our children as much as possible.


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