A massive study including hundreds of thousands of people has discovered the genetic variants which (partly) determine our happiness.
Dr Alexis Frazier-Wood, one of the study’s authors, said:
“We report that we found three genetic variants associated with subjective well-being – how happy a person thinks or feels about his or her life.
We also found two genes harboring variants associated with depressive symptoms and 11 genes where variation was associated with neuroticism.”
The study involved analysing data from many other studies.
The meta-analysis pooled data from 298,000 people.
Of course the genes themselves do not totally control how happy we feel.
Dr. Daniel Benjamin, one of the study’s authors, explained:
“Genetics is only one factor that influences these psychological traits [including happiness].
The environment is at least as important, and it interacts with the genetic effects.”
Professor Meike Bartels, another of the study’s authors, said:
“This study is both a milestone and a new beginning: A milestone because we are now certain that there is a genetic aspect to happiness and a new beginning because the three variants that we know are involved account for only a small fraction of the differences between human beings.
We expect that many variants will play a part.”
Locating these variants will also allow us to better study the interplay between nature and nurture, as the environment is certainly responsible – to some extent – for differences in the way people experience happiness.”
Professor Bartels continued:
“The genetic overlap with depressive symptoms that we have found is also a breakthrough.
This shows that research into happiness can also offer new insights into the causes of one of the greatest medical challenges of our time: depression.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Nature Genetics (Okbay et al., 2016).