Is Happiness Genetic?

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the science of happiness, including on this very blog.. But could leading a happy life be largely a matter of genes? The U.K.’s Daily Record reports on a finding by Edinburgh University psychologists that “inherited genes control up to half of the personality traits that keep us happy.” Those with the “happy” genes are more able to build up “affective reserves” that kick in when things in life don’t go your way.

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  1. sarah says:

    As someone who can think of several naturally produced/regulated “feel-good” chemicals (serotonin jumps to mind first), I would find it unsurprising if happiness does largely come down to genes. (I’m happy to be educated by more learned individuals.)

    However, on a personal level, I’m always somewhat concerned by things that encourage people to abdicate responsibility over their own lives and fortunes. To whatever extent happiness is determined by non-genetic factors, and specifically by the individual, I think it is important that the individual fully commit to creating his own happiness. I also think it is hard to do that when one is repeatedly told that his own happiness is really outside of his control (which, as study on these “happy genes” progresses and produces drugs, is bound to happen between the media and advertisers).

    Then again, yay for research. It really is amazing how far psychology has come.

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  2. Aditi says:

    One thing seems a little odd: why pick 1000 pairs of twins? Why not just test for the presence/absence of ‘happy’ genes in happy or unhappy people?

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  3. Goatboy Slim says:

    I read a great comment once about personality theory, something to the effect that when parents have their first child, they are Environmentalists, but after their second child, they become Determinists.

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  4. Deirdre Hamilton says:

    I wouldn’t think happiness is genetic. I personal think that being positive about everything in your life can lead to happiness. Then if you can pass that on to your children etc…they can grow up being positive and that can make them happy. That what i think.

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  5. Ahmet TUHAN says:

    there are so many problem in the world. I think all problem will be solve…

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  6. Flygal says:

    Re:comment #2 using twins in genetic studies is the best way (yet) to weed out the “nature Vs nurture” problem. Twins provide a natural source of identical genomes to answer questions such as- is it the make-up of one’s genes or is it the environment that one is raised in that leads to a particular outcome ? In this case the outcome is being happy.

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  7. RP says:

    @Aditi

    Researchers use twin pairs in these studies as an attempt to control for genetic and, to a lesser degree, environmental factors. The thinking is that twins approximate “equivalent” genetic information. If twin happiness differs when segregated by environmental factors (e.g., wealth vs poverty, stress levels, etc.), then genetic factors would not be driving happiness. However, if environmental factors were not correlated, then their shared heritable genetic factors are correlated with happiness levels.

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  8. DJH says:

    The brain is an electrochemical soup. It is built by the body initially according to genetic code, and thereafter affected by stimuli (i.e. experiences) over time. “Happiness” or lack thereof, results from how the brain functions. It would take an extreme leap of logic to believe that genetics can play NO role in the equation.

    This study, and others, appears to confirm this role. Little purpose is served by continuing to deny the effect of physiology (which includes genetics) in mental function. Moralizing about it as commenter #1 (sarah) does, is not relevant to whether or not this connection exists: that physiology contributes to mental function does not grant permission to be irresponsible or amoral.

    Many things are physiologically possible for human beings, but not all of these are morally acceptable. What IS, in fact, truly “immoral” is to set back the study of psychology as a whole, by continuing to avoid the reality that physiology plays a role in mental function. Lives can be improved and even saved by effective treatment based upon sound, fact-based psychology; the likelihood of this happening, if psychology is skewed by a desire to deny the importance of physiology, is much less.

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