Saturday, May 07, 2011

‘Happiness gene’ in brain determines basic levels of contentment

This is quite a strong piece of research. The strong influence of genetics on happiness was known but to pick out one of the actual genes involved is a good advance. Sadly, the measure of happiness used was unsophisticated. A more comprehensive and reliable measure of happiness could well show the gene as even more influential than the researchers below calculate.

The political importance of the finding goes back to several findings in recent years that money doesn't make you happy. Leftists have reasoned from that that they are therefore doing you no harm by taking more of your money in tax.

But in a typically incurious Leftist way, they fail to ask WHY money doesn't generally make you happy. And a large part of the answer is the finding reiterated below: That happiness is a stable, inborn personality trait that varies little no matter WHAT happens to you. In fact, even people who have become paraplegic or quadriplegic through some unfortunate accident usually regain their previous level of happiness after a couple of years

So by Leftist reasoning, they would do us no harm by making us all paraplegics. In other words, the invariability of happiness makes it an inappropriate criterion by which to judge public policy. What people WANT is a far more justifiable and ascertainable criterion

And in any case we have to ask where Leftists get the right to make our decisions for us? It is far more justifiable and humane to say that each person should as far as possible make his own decisions for himself. But Leftist arrogance has no time for that of course. The individual hardly matters to them at all. They know better. They seem to think that their sh*t doesn't stink.

I examine the earlier research and writing in this field at more length here. The final version of the scientific journal article presently being disussed is supposed to be available here but does not yet appear to be online. I therefore follow the popular summary below with the abstract from a working version of the paper. An alternative summary of the paper can be found here

The study of more than 2,500 Americans revealed two variants of a gene that influenced how satisfied – or dissatisfied – people were with their lot. Those born with two long versions of the gene (one is passed down from each parent) were more likely to declare themselves "very satisfied" with life than those who inherited two short versions.

The study marks a tentative step towards explaining the mystery of why some people seem naturally happier than others. "This gives us more insight into the biological mechanisms that influence life satisfaction," said Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, a researcher at the London School of Economics and Political Science. "If you're feeling down, you can say it's your biology telling you life is less rosy that it is," he added.

A greater understanding of happiness genes might in future allow would-be parents to create a child who will be more satisfied with their life.

Happiness is only partly influenced by genetic makeup. Studies in twins suggest that genes account for roughly a third to a half of the variation in happiness between people. It is not yet known how many genes affect how cheerful we are.

De Neve looked at the genetic makeup of 2,574 people selected to be representative of the general population, whose medical histories were recorded for the US National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Among the records were answers to a question participants were asked in their early 20s about life satisfaction. In response to the question, "How satisfied are you with your life as a whole", they answered either "very satisfied", "satisfied", "neither satisfied or dissatisfied", "dissatisfied" or "very dissatisfied".

Writing in the Journal of Human Genetics, De Neve describes how roughly 40% said they were "very satisfied" with life, and among these, 35.4% had two long variants of the gene and only 19.1% had two short versions. Of those who were "dissatisfied" with life, 26.2% had two long variants of the gene, while 20% had two short versions. That indicates a slight over-representation of the long variants in happier people.

The gene, known as 5-HTT, is involved with the transport of serotonin, a feelgood chemical, in the brain. The longer variant leads to more efficient release and recycling of the neurotransmitter....

A 2009 study by Elaine Fox at the University of Essex suggested that people who carried long versions of the 5-HTT gene had a greater tendency to focus on the positives in life. The "bright side" version of the gene might bolster people's resilience to stressful events, and protect against anxiety, depression and other mental health problems.

Ed Diener, a psychologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and author of the 2008 book, Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth, said: "We are just beginning to understand the actual genetics of happiness, and how genes might influence brain hormones and other physiology that influence our well-being.

"This exciting work offers insights that one day may help us counter disorders such as depression. Parents one day might have the choice of whether to choose genes that will create a child who is more satisfied with his or her life."

Genes, Economics, and Happiness

By Jan-Emmanuel De Neve et al.


A major finding from research into the sources of subjective well-being is that individuals exhibit a "baseline" level of happiness. We explore the influence of genetic variation by employing a twin design and genetic association study.

We first show that about 33% of the variation in happiness is explained by genes. Next, using two independent data sources, we present evidence that individuals with a transcriptionally more efficient version of the serotonin transporter gene (SLC6A4) report significantly higher levels of life satisfaction.

These results are the first to identify a specific gene that is associated with happiness and suggest that behavioral models benefit from integrating genetic variation.


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