Do Your Genes Determine Your Happiness?

A 2016 study on Happiness in Behavior Genetics found that genetic makeup is responsible for 32 to 40% of one’s ability to be happy, the rest comes down to lifestyle along with other environmental factors. So how do your genes determine your levels of happiness? And what are the other factors that come into play?

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How Your Genes Affect Your Levels of Happiness

Early studies on the genetics of happiness were mainly conducted on twins and twins reared apart.

The main question guiding these studies is one, perhaps as old as human history, the ‘nature vs nurture’ debate. These studies focused on whether it is one’s upbringing that makes them happy or whether it is determined by their genes.

 Surprisingly, the findings concluded that there is a very high concordance between identical twins raised apart, but not so much for siblings in the same environment. So it seemed that nature was playing a larger role than a shared environment.
 When they looked back at serotonin receptors, dopamine, and other contributors to this emotion, then at the personality traits that are partly dependent on them, they found that people who are chronically happier are often extroverted and agreeable.

They also get large amounts of pleasure from their social lives, and they’re somewhat dominant. So all of these genes can, in a way, help them start off their lives a little happier than other individuals. Moreover, some of the other negative emotions (anger, sadness, fear, and lack of confidence) are not so pronounced in them.

 On the other hand, some people are born more fearful and more of the worry-warts. However, what is interesting is that these traits do not dictate the chronic emotional state of these people. So although we are born with biological propensities, everyone can raise their happiness set point.  

The Three Essential Components of Happiness

A study on the pursuit of happiness defined it in terms of high life satisfaction, frequent positive circumstances, and infrequent negative ones.

These constructs are what constitute subjective well-being or chronic happiness levels. Chronic happiness defines the levels of happiness over an extended period of time, and not at one particular moment or day. In this regard, there are three primary factors influencing chronic happiness levels.

No.1 Life satisfaction

Life satisfaction is usually linked to positive emotions based on your past, present, and projections of future experiences. In a way, your past can influence your future life satisfaction depending on how you frame that future in your mind. One pertinent example is thinking of the future in retrospect with past trauma, and as a result, you’re trapped in a cycle of anticipating worst-case scenarios.

No.2 Meaning and purpose in life

Living a life of purpose and meaning, having goals and aspirations, and helping others through what you do can bring great feelings of satisfaction. When you don’t have a clear sense of purpose that guides your thoughts and actions, you’re likely to feel less focused, less efficient, but also more stressed because you don’t feel aligned with the things you do.

No.3 Feeling engaged in what you do

Whether it’s the work you do, the relationships you cultivate, or the way you spend your free time, feeling engaged with what you do on a daily basis is essential. The more invested you are in your career, hobbies, and the people you spend time with, the happier you are likely to be.

In Conclusion

While research indicates that we are able to inherit positive traits like optimism, happiness, and self-esteem, a predisposition to a satisfying life is not the only aspect of happiness.

Despite our genetic makeup, there are many ways in which we can learn how to be happier, no matter how challenging life can get, one way being cultivating emotional resiliency and letting go of our perfectionist tendencies.

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