For centuries, people have argued whether it is possible for someone to be inherently good or inherently bad. However, the subject of inherent happiness is less common. I’ve noticed that happiness seems to occur in patterns. People who are happy tend to spend time with other people who are generally happy. This results in a higher quantity of happy people reproducing and consequently, often having happy babies. This led me to wonder whether or not happiness was genetic.
A study done at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland measured the genetics of happiness by studying twins. The researchers analyzed 830 pairs of twins, all of whom were adults, and compared their environments and genes to their levels of happiness, measured by “self-acceptance, feelings of autonomy, personal growth, positive relationships, pursuit of goals, and sense of control over their lives.” The result of this study was that happiness tended to be 50% genetic and 50% environmental.
This research study eliminated many confounding variables because it used participants who were almost completely genetically similar, yet who lived in varying environments. However, one major variable the study did not eliminate was upbringing. If someone is raised in a nurturing and generally happy household, they are more likely to hold the same values as an adult; conversely if children grow up in an unhappy, abusive, or turbulent household, they are more likely to be less happy as adults.
Another indicator that happiness is genetic is that it often varies by geographical location. In Asia, happiness levels are much lower than in other regions of the world. In Asia, people also have, on average, shorter alleles. On the other hand, In Africa, there is a huge range in levels of happiness. A major difference between Africa and Asia are genetic diversity. Africa is extremely diverse, unlike Asia, and consequently has greater variations in happiness, thus backing up the point that happiness is largely genetic.
So, does this mean that happiness is completely predetermined and you have no control over your emotions? No. Although two huge contributors to happiness are genetics and environment, another major part of it is attitude. Studies that simple things such as sitting outside for a few minutes, smelling certain things, eating certain foods, or even forcing a laugh can increase hormone production and concordantly increase happiness.