May 9, 2011

the happiness gene

On some level, it's obvious that happiness is genetic. Your ability to think and feel come from the brain you own (and that owns you), and the basic instructions to build a brain are found in your genes.

On another level, though, the complex interplay of environment, culture, genetics, and development means there's no gene for happiness.

Survey says: sort of.
The happiest people tended to have a long variant of a gene called 5-HTTLPR. This gene makes a transporter molecule for serotonin, a chemical that brain cells use to communicate with each other, and the long variant helps to recycle serotonin faster and more efficiently than the short one.

De Neve extracted his data from the US National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which has been following the same set of adolescents for 13 years, from 1995 to 2008. Genomic information in this study allowed him to distinguish respondents who had two long versions of 5-HTTLPR from those who had two short versions, or one of each.

Twice as many respondents with two long versions said they were very satisfied with life compared with carriers of two short versions.

Conversely, 26 per cent of those with two short versions of the gene said they were dissatisfied with life, compared with 20 per cent of people carrying two long variants.
Since there's not yet a truly objective way of measuring happiness, one wonders if 5-HTTLPR is just the gene variant for optimistic self-delusion. Or so says my skeptical gene.


Paul Hamann said...

There's no way of telling the difference between happiness and self-delusion. What consitutes "true" happiness? Are we all deluding ourselves by not thinking of the starving people/drowning polar bears/better lives we might have led? I get annoyed when people declare themselves expert at what other people are "really" feeling. How the hell do they know?

Jim Anderson said...

And what if thinking of drowning polar bears is what makes one happy? What then?