The happiness gene

Happiness is a highly sought after commodity. In fact it might be the most sought after commodity. Ask someone would they want a new car or happiness and most, surely, would opt for happiness. Given that happiness is in such demand there is a never-ending search for what makes us happy. Now it seems that some researchers from the London School of Economics have stumbled upon a “happiness gene”.

The gene in question is the 5-HTT gene and it carries the code for serotonin receptors. Serotonin is a “feel good” neurotransmitter and neurotransmitters require a receptor on cell walls for them to attach to in order to exert their effects. So the 5-HTT gene does not get involved in making serotonin but is necessary for serotonin to be able to work.

As it happens the 5-HTT gene has an allele, or variation, from person to person meaning that it can be either short or long. This allowed the researchers to test to see whether a short or long 5-HTT gene had any correlation with happiness levels.

They did this by asking participants in their study whether they were very satisfied, satisfied, dissatisfied, very dissatisfied, or “none of the above” with their life as whole. They then matched their genetic make-up to these results remembering that every person has two codes for the 5-HTT gene; one from their mother and one from their father.

Among those who had a long-long version of the 5-HTT gene 69 per cent said they were very satisfied or satisfied with life. Only nineteen per cent of those with the short-short version were satisfied or very satisfied.

By contrast, 26 per cent of those with the short-short version were dissatisfied with their life compared to twenty per cent among those with the long-long version. Those who had one long allele of the gene had an 8.5 per cent higher chance of being very satisfied compared to those with the short-short variation. Also those with the long-long variation were seventeen per cent more likely to be very satisfied compared to those with the short-short combination.

This illustrated a very strong link between the 5-HTT gene and happiness although it does not say that genetics are the whole story. The authors themselves acknowledge that other genes impact the 5-HTT-happiness link and that life experience will significantly modify any genetic connection. What this does tell us though is why we each have a unique baseline level of happiness and why some people are happier than others.

So genetics provide a kind of framework upon which you build your own levels of happiness through life experiences and choices. There have been all sorts of statements over the years as to what those choices “should” be and what happiness is; a loving family, a walk on the beach, a caring community, or a beautiful home. Now we know the true answer to this; happiness is a long-long 5-HTT gene. 

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The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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