Monday, May 17, 2010

Great News! A gene which sets default happiness has been found :)

New research by Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, James Fowler, and Bruno Frey has found that the default setting for happiness is directly controlled by a single gene. 

Twin studies have already established that baseline happiness is heritable but, using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, these authors show that individuals with a more efficient version of the serotonin transporter gene, 5HTT, are significantly more likely to report higher levels of life satisfaction. Having one or two versions of the more efficient gene raises the average likelihood of being very satisfied with one's life by 8.5% and 17.3%, respectively. 

This is a direct, linear relationship which, as the authors point out, is not evidence of a gene-environment interaction, but of a direct association between the gene and subjective well-being: double the gene, and the satisfaction doubles with it!

However, the authors add that “It is crucial to point out at the outset that this association study does not establish that 5HTT ‘causes’ happiness, nor does it exclude the possibility that several other genes may play a role, but it does suggest at least one possible causal pathway able to account for the influence of genes on happiness.”

And as they also point out, serotonin metabolism in general and 5HTT expression in particular play an important role in mental illness, notably depression and related disorders—just as you would expect if it were critical to feelings of well-being. Read the full post here. Read Genes and Happiness research here.
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