Thursday, February 23, 2017

Discovery in the Genetics of Happiness

Happiness is said to be a fleeting thing, but thanks to researcher Meike Bartel, the scientific community is one step closer to understanding just how happiness is expressed in the first place. By sampling almost 300,000 people, Bartel took a sample of each subject's DNA and measured their well-being (self reported measure of life satisfaction and mental health). From this, she was able to determine important information about the link between genetics and happiness, including variants for happiness, depression, and areas on the genome linked to happiness.

Bartel stressed the fact that even though research has found a link between a subject's well-being and their genetic make up, lurking variables such as environmental factors play a major role in the overall well-being of a person. It is important to understand that a subject that does not exhibiting this variation can still be as happy as a person that does, but those with it are more prone to optimistic bias.
Meike Bartels speaking in Dubai about the 'Science of Happiness'

A journal I found on the subject on the National Institute of Health's website entitled "Genes, Economics, and Happiness", suggested that happiness was linked to a longer 5-HTTLPR allele, a serotonin transporter gene. Subjects that had a longer 5-HTT allele had a tendency to report a higher well-being that those that had shorter ones. Additionally, subject's with the shorter allele tended to succumb to stress depression more frequently. In both this journal and Bartel's journal article, the inconsistency of the experiments for this discovery was noted, as later experiments yielded varying results in regards to allele length and the effects on well-being. The topic would be interesting to explore further, as the link between the two variables could be significant.

An important question that was raised during this research is whether this genetic link to happiness could be used to genetically alter a person to have a happier predisposition. Unfortunately, the answer is no... for now anyway. Bartel explains that there are several thousand gene variants responsible for happiness, and altering that much DNA would be too great a task. For now, her focus is on the effects the environment has on genes.

CNBC "Happiness might Well be Genetic"


  1. I thought your post was really interesting! I was intrigued by the fact that happiness is actually being linked to a specific allele. I always thought that happiness was solely based on environmental factors. It will be interesting to see where this research can take us in terms of treating illnesses such as depression. Great post!

  2. Interesting article and I agree it is hard to link genetics to happiness with 100% accuracy. With all of the extraneous variable that have affect it would be hard to measure and to time consuming.
    Maybe one day if depression continues to rise geneticist will explore all the possible genes variants that are responsible for happiness. Who knows anything could happen after the Human Genome Project involving research with genetics.