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Biotech Science

The Genetics of Happiness 129

Posted by Soulskill
from the double-helix-of-good-times dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Studies comparing identical twins with non-identical twins have helped to establish the heritability of many aspects of behavior. Recent work suggests that about one third of the variation in people's happiness is heritable. Jan-Emmanuel De Neve has taken the study a step further, picking a popular suspect — the gene that encodes the serotonin-transporter protein, a molecule that shuffles a brain messenger called serotonin through cell membranes — and examined how variants of the 5-HTT gene affect levels of happiness. The serotonin-transporter gene comes in two functional variants—long and short and people have two versions (known as alleles) of each gene, one from each parent. After examining genetic data from more than 2,500 participants in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, De Neve found that people with one long allele were 8% more likely than those with none to describe themselves as very satisfied with life and those with two long alleles were 17% more likely of describing themselves as very satisfied. Interestingly enough, there is a notable variation across races with Asian Americans in the sample having on average 0.69 long genes, white Americans with 1.12, and black Americans with 1.47. 'It has long been suspected that this gene plays a role in mental health but this is the first study to show that it is instrumental in shaping our individual happiness levels (PDF),' writes De Neve. 'This finding helps to explain why we each have a unique baseline level of happiness and why some people tend to be naturally happier than others, and that's in no small part due to our individual genetic make-up.'"
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The Genetics of Happiness

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  • by JoeMerchant (803320) on Tuesday October 18, 2011 @08:38AM (#37748660)

    Baseline happiness can arguably be negatively correlated to competitiveness, drive and success. You are naturally happy, so you don't worry about making things better for yourself or your children, you just go with the flow because things are pretty good the way they are.

    Check out the decisions of people before and after they go on an SSRI. The small sample of SSRI users I know tend to fall into a complacent, ultimately self destructive, state when they are on the pills for too long (6 months or more). It's not something I've seen widely published in the literature, just personal observation shared between myself and other non-SSRI users about SSRI users we know.

  • by JoeMerchant (803320) on Tuesday October 18, 2011 @08:44AM (#37748698)

    Interesting test (party affiliation vs allelle composition), doubt we could get government funding to run a publicly published study though. I bet there are private studies already in the works for the various "political think tanks."

  • Re:So how long ... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 18, 2011 @08:44AM (#37748700)

    You mean prozac? Allthough it doesn't produce any additional serotonin, just inhibits it's reuptake into the presynaptic cell. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SSRI

  • by coinreturn (617535) on Tuesday October 18, 2011 @08:45AM (#37748710)

    Baseline happiness can arguably be negatively correlated to competitiveness, drive and success. You are naturally happy, so you don't worry about making things better for yourself or your children, you just go with the flow because things are pretty good the way they are.

    Check out the decisions of people before and after they go on an SSRI. The small sample of SSRI users I know tend to fall into a complacent, ultimately self destructive, state when they are on the pills for too long (6 months or more). It's not something I've seen widely published in the literature, just personal observation shared between myself and other non-SSRI users about SSRI users we know.

    I somewhat agree, though without the "self-destructive" part of your statement. I have been on SSRI and have seen my own complacency reduce my drive.

  • by dkleinsc (563838) on Tuesday October 18, 2011 @08:46AM (#37748720) Homepage

    A possible factor here is that if they recruited test subjects from the student population (not uncommon for university studies), the black subjects would be more likely to be exceptionally motivated and happy people just to get into the school in the first place.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday October 18, 2011 @08:59AM (#37748820) Journal
    Given the observed sensitivity, especially but not exclusively neonatal, to environmental influences, and the whole field of epigenetic study, it is neither obvious, nor obviously true, that our genetic make-up determines who we are.

    Thanks to twin studies and other convenient test populations, we've been able to determine that some things are extremely heritable; but that others are surprisingly minimally so. There are even a number of factors(mostly metabolic and neurological stuff that is laid down in utero) where the developing embryo takes enough chemical cues from mommy that a practically Lamarkian pattern of 'inheritance' is seen.

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