Genes and Happiness

Neuroscientifically Challenged synopsized a study by a research group from the University of Edinburgh to investigate how much our subjective sense of happiness is dependent upon our genetic makeup.

They used twin studies and a questionnaire called the Midlife Development Inventory, averaged the scores across the Five Factor Model (FFM), conducted an interview to assess general wellbeing, and compared the results to research that correlated FFM personality traits with happiness.

As expected, well-being was “negatively correlated with Neuroticism, and positively correlated with Extraversion, Openness to Experience, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness. In addition, the correlation between monozygotic twins was significantly higher than in dizygotic twins.”

These findings suggest that there is a genetic component to happiness as a potential function of genetically determined personality type. “The less neurotic an individual is, for example, the happier he or she tends to be.”

Neuroscientifically Challenged concludes with a warning:

It is easy, however, to take this argument a bit too far. [The authors are not claiming that genes determine happiness.] They instead are suggesting our genes provide us with a starting point, a set-point, of emotional stability, which we end up moving from in one direction or another based on our experiences. People born with what might be considered an unfavorable personality assessment according to the FFM often come up with innovative ways to improve their life, and their outlook on it. [Genes simply] provide us with a rough outline, albeit one that we are able to constantly revise throughout our lives.

I couldn’t agree more. I certainly don’t blame my parents every time I’m feeling a little bit down. People have free will. They’re capable of choosing to safeguard against genetic predispositions. It’s just harder for some than for others. Well-being isn’t completely genetic or completely environmental; it’s a complex interplay between the two.

Happiness isn’t, and will never be, algorithmic. That’s why depression is so hard to “cure”. Beating it will always take herculean volitional gusto.


Side Note: It seems to me that in major clinical depression a piggybacking of environmental factors and genetic predisposition is almost certainly at play while melancholic depression may, more often than not, be predominately environmental. Just a thought.


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