Is Happiness in Your Genes?

It’s an unalienable right — the United States Declaration of Independence says so, right up there with life and liberty. Happiness is a complex equation with many variables, but the pursuit of happiness may come easier for some because of a genetic advantage.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Research suggests that people have a genetic predisposition for a certain level of happiness, accounting for around 40 to 50 per cent of those joyful feelings. By studying twins and siblings, researchers concluded that genetically determined personality traits, like being sociable, active, stable, optimistic, hardworking, and conscientious, are closely related to happiness.

It also turns out that being male or female does not have a major role in determining happiness, but ethnicity and cultural differences can play a part.

Because happiness is not a medical condition, it’s not measured by a blood test or electric monitors; it’s measured by asking specific questions designed to asses an individual’s subjective well- being. So the research is based on answers given by the participants about their quality of life, satisfaction with the present, and subjective happiness.

In addition to personality traits, the structure of the brain plays a role in the happiness equation. The brain has billions of neurons (brain cells), and between each one are neurotransmitters — chemical messengers allowing brain cells to talk to each other. A person’s genetic make-up is responsible for the level of transmitters, and since certain neurotransmitters dictate emotions and feelings, they must be present in sufficient amounts for the brain to be chemically happy as a clam. The good news is that these “feel good” transmitters can be balanced out by lifestyle changes such as positive relationships,  a healthy diet and even exercise.

Walking On Sunshine

The Dalai Lama, Aristotle, and Bob Marley are just a few who have written about happiness, and bookstores are loaded with self-help books, but if happiness is genetic, are all those books just a waste of paper, or app space?

Don’t throw out those happy DIY books just yet. It’s the interaction between genetic predispositions and other factors, such as upbringing, life circumstances, income, possessions, and relationships that tells the complete story. And adding purposeful activities, like socializing, doing meaningful work, and exercising round out the happily ever after picture.

So even though individuals may have a unique ‘set point’ for happiness, there are ways to improve upon it. Take a walk and get active, listen to music, meet a friend, do a good deed, live in the moment, and engage in meaningful activities that create joy. Those who wish to sing always find a song (Swedish proverb).

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