We have a problem in the United States - the levels of happiness for Americans are decreasing. These levels of happiness among Americans has continued to decrease since it hit its peak in 1993. In a time when many people are focused on doing what they need to do to feel better about their life, they continue to report they are just not satisfied with life. Despite all of the apps for mindfulness, all of the information on how to improve well-being, less stigma associated with mental health, and modern conveniences (such as online shopping with next or same-day shipping with e-tailers such as Amazon), people are just not feeling happy.
So, why is this happening? Is happiness genetic?
Research has revealed that there is, in fact, a happiness gene that can be passed down from generation to generation. So, it’s true, if grandfather Frank was a happy-go-lucky person, you may be that happy, a go-lucky person as well because of him. If grandma Mary was miserable most of the time, that could have something to do with your feeling miserable.
In a recent study, researchers analyzed the genome of many people and found that people who reported higher levels of happiness had certain genetic variants. While those who reported having lower levels of happiness had other genetic variants in common. This supports their hypothesis that genes do have something to do with people’s happiness with life.
But, wait. Before you pick up the phone to thank or blame someone for your level of happiness, there’s something you should know.
Our genetic makeup only has 40% influence on our happiness. This means that 60% of our happiness has to do with environmental factors.
If you take away anything from this article, take away this: genetic don’t dictate exactly what will happen to you - just what COULD happen to you. It goes for weight gain, breast cancer, rare diseases, etc. Just because you have genetic influences for certain medical conditions or personality traits, it doesn’t mean you will end up with it. You simply have a predisposition for it. Environmental factors play a role in what happens in your life.
One of the biggest environmental factors that have to do with happiness is life satisfaction. This can look different for many people. One person’s life may not seem great to someone else, but as long as that person is satisfied that is all that matters. What makes most people satisfied? Being able to live a life they believe is what will make them happy.
Life satisfaction comes from what someone BELIEVES will make them happy. But, is that it? A belief? No, actually, many people achieve what they believe would have made them happy, but they still haven’t achieved the level of happiness they desire.
Achieving happiness has a lot to do with other environmental factors, such as what people do to improve their mental health. For instance, eating healthy, exercising, and promoting well-being with activities that relieve stress can balance serotonin and dopamine levels. This improves mental health, and in turn, makes people feel happier. It’s why many people who suffer from depressive symptoms not only seek counseling and positive psychology, but they also make lifestyle changes.
Depression has long been known as a condition with genetic components (most notably the 5-httlpr gene), but here again, depression can be prevented and cured by limited the environmental factors that have led to its development. The genetic factors will always be there, but as long as they are counteracted by the environmental ones, people can live a healthy, happy life.
Researchers David Lykken and Auke Tellegen conducted a twin study looking at the levels of happiness of 1,300 sets of identical and fraternal twins. The identical twins reported similar levels of happiness while the fraternal ones had more variance in their levels. The study was done with twins raised together and apart. The results supported genetics having about half of an influence on levels of happiness.
” Happiness can be successfully pursued, but it is not ‘easy’” - Sonja Luubomirsky and Kennon M. Sheldon
Happiness is 60% up to you. The role of genes simply doesn’t have everything to do with your satisfaction in life. That’s what you need to do for yourself.
Many people compare themselves to other people. They see those people living a “good life” and think they are “happy people” so they try to follow their lead or they become miserable thinking they will never reach their level of happiness.
The reality is that most people who seem to have a good life or are happy people are actually dealing with some difficult life situations and put on a smile because it’s all that they can do to keep from crying. You NEVER have any idea what people really go through, so don’t even try to compare yourself to them.
You should also consider that everyone is different and what makes them happy may not necessarily make you happy. And really, what makes one person happy and not another person happy can be genetic differences. The heritability of happiness also has to do with WHAT will make someone happy.
Psychological science has researched the impact of cognitions on emotions for many years. Most studies reveal positive thoughts correlate with positive emotions. Despite genetic variants in people, those who train themselves to identify positivity over negativity are more likely to report they are happier.
People who work on themselves to improve parts that they are not satisfied with will feel much more satisfied than those who typically blame others for their lives. Believing there’s a certain amount of control in oneself to be able to shift perceptions, health, and well-being can lead to achieving greater levels of happiness.
Many users of Sequencing.com use DNA analysis apps for personal development. By analyzing their DNA’s raw data, they become more knowledgeable about their genes. This knowledge can then be used to make changes in their lifestyle to either bring forth positive genetic predispositions or prevent negative ones.
For instance, someone can use the Prevent Breast Cancer app to learn if they have a genetic predisposition to breast cancer. If the analysis shows a gene has been inherited that could cause breast cancer, it’s possible to work with a health care professional to devise a preventative strategy. In a more positive light, using the app that analyzes the DNA data for personality traits, someone may discover they may be genetically predisposed to musical talent. This musical talent will only appear with proper training and practice, so the person starts working with a music teacher to develop the talent.
Sonja Lyubomirsky is an American professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of California, Riverside and author of the bestseller, ”The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want. Her definition of happiness is “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.”
Would you define happiness that way?
Most of you will say that part of it is what happiness means to you, but you’ll have some other qualities that happiness should have because you feel you’re happy.
It’s important to know what makes YOU happy, and then work on what that is, so you can find out if it indeed does make you happy. After all, many people BELIEVE that something will make them happy and then they are disappointed that it didn’t make them as happy as they thought. This is also when many people become discouraged and attribute their unhappiness to their genes, which is NOT the problem.
Meike Bartels, a biological psychologist, who has studied the individual differences in happiness and well-being has published a lot on the interplay of genetics and the environment. She continues to research in what way genetics affects happiness - “My main aim is to get a better hold of the environment. We think we know a lot about the environment but we do not. Most environmental factors are genetically influenced,” Bartels says.
There’s still a lot more to learn about happiness and genetics, but what we do know now is that they are related. As there is more research, we’ll learn more about that 40% and what those genetic variations mean for people’s happiness. Someday, finding happiness could be as easy as taking a DNA test and analyzing it for the happiness gene.