Happiness May Be in the Genes
Study Shows Inherited Personality Traits Play a Key Role in Happiness
March 5, 2008 -- People tend to be hardwired for happiness, and new genetic
research may help explain why.
Past studies suggest that while 50% of happiness is due to situational
factors like health, relationships, and career, the other 50% is due to
The new research identified largely inherited personality traits that
researchers say are responsible for much of the genetic influence on
Having the right mix of these inherited traits leads to a "reserve"
of happiness that can be called on in times of stress, they say.
"Traits like being active, sociable, conscientious, and not being overly
anxious are related to happiness -- and these are also traits that are
inherited," researcher Timothy Bates, PhD, tells WebMD.
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Genes and the Pursuit of Happiness
Bates and University of Edinburgh colleagues Alexander Weiss, PhD, and
Michelle Luciano, PhD, have studied the science of happiness for the past 15
Their latest study involved more than 900 identical and non-identical twin
pairs who completed a standardized questionnaire designed to identify
Since identical twins share all the same genes and non-identical twins
do not, the researchers say they were able to determine the influence of genes
on the personality traits and on happiness.
"Together with life and liberty, the pursuit of happiness is a core
human desire," Weiss notes in a news release. "Although happiness
is subject to a wide range of external influence, we have found that there is a
heritable component of happiness which can be entirely explained by genetic
architecture of personality."
The study appears in the March issue of the journal Psychological
Achieving Happiness by Setting Goals
The findings do not mean that people who don't inherit happiness traits are
destined to lead miserable lives, Bates says.
Bates, Weiss, and Luciano are studying whether adopting the traits
associated with happiness can make people happy. Early findings suggest it
Since setting and achieving goals is a common trait in conscientious people,
and conscientiousness is linked to happiness, study participants were asked to
set five achievable goals that could be accomplished in a week.
"As soon as people started working toward these goals their happiness
scores went up," Bates says. "When they were no longer working toward a
goal their happiness scores dropped."
So while some people are genetically predisposed to being goal-oriented and
others are not, the research suggests that it is the behavior that drives
happiness, whether or not it comes naturally.
People who stay physically active and socially connected also tend to be
happier, so adopting these traits is important for people who are naturally
introverted, Bates says.