Genetic Happiness

What portion of our own personal happiness is based on genetics? Are we predestined to live out our happiness according to some biological measure? Some people do have a more natural ability when it comes to happiness, some people find it easy to be happy. For others it takes more effort. Do some of us have to try harder to be happy? Recent research says 50% of our happiness is predetermined by our genetics…. Does that thought make you happy or unhappy? What is our set point happiness?

I’ve always been intrigued with the concept of happiness. At times happiness has seemed so elusive, that I’ve had to question my own understanding and pursuit of it. In this pursuit over the last twenty years, I’ve read hundreds of Psychology and self-help books, and have watched many documentaries. It fascinates me, from a personal, psychological, spiritual and scientific standpoint.

I understand for some, the idea of pursuing something intangible makes no sense, and of course to those that are lucky enough to carry some genetic disposition to optimism, almost ridiculous. If you are still reading this, and don’t understand my need for this quest, by all means go back to your half-full glass of Chardonnay and salute the Creator for your gift.

Others would question whether happiness lies in genetics, whether some receive functioning neurotransmitters by sheer creative luck. And I understand the desire to take some responsibility for our own happiness, we want to say I did X, Y and Z and because of those actions/choices I earned my happiness degree. The problem with this reasoning of course is that some of us have done the same X, Y and Z and have still not graduated … we’re forever students.

I want to understand happiness in more specific applicable terms, than just platitudes. If one more genetically happy person tells me it’s a choice … I’m going to choke on my own vomit. Happiness is not just a choice carrot that is dangled in front of you …I’ve put an abundant amount of effort into trying to make it be, so much so in fact, my German ancestors must be rolling over in their graves with pride over my diligence. I’m trying to be happy damn it.

I’m not wanting to grasp happiness to give some sort of meaning to my life, my life already has meaning to it. This meaning reaches far beyond any sense of self I may have and looks beautiful on the face of my children and in these moments happiness seems tangible to me. My pursuit in no way diminishes them and I in no way expect another person to bring about this elusive happiness in my life, this is my pursuit.

For many years I accepted and told others that I was ok with the forerunner of happiness which is contentment. It’s disheartening though at times to work so hard and only be able to achieve 2nd place. Mind you, contentment does have its place and time, it’s admirable in its own right as is 2nd place but it doesn’t mean I want to give up on understanding how some achieve 1st place. And so onward I march.

My belief is as follows, and it’s not a credentialed or degred opinion, so take it as such.

I believe that as individuals we have a genetic happiness predisposition, a start point if you will and that this start point is not flexible in nature, it is written in one’s DNA and it remains a constant from birth to death. I believe our happiness set point is like other areas where genetics give us a heads up or not, it is no different than athletics or intellect. That being said, I think there is room for one to contribute where genetics leave off. To say happiness is a choice, is misleading, but to say that we can chose to make the effort to contribute to what we’ve been given, is more accurate and can be essential to our own well-being.

I found the documentary Happiness informative and it gave some credibility to some of my own ideas about a genetic happiness set point, I’ve shared just some of the basic information, it’s a documentary worth watching.

Happiness Psychologist Ed Diener, twenty-five year study of happiness, has given the following breakdown for happiness:

  • 50% determined by our genetic / set point
  • 10% determined circumstances/health/social status
  • 40% unaccounted for / intentional behavior, things we can do to be happy

Psychologist, Liz Seymour writes, “…variables such as age, education, health, income, personal appearance, and even climate are ineffective at overriding our genetically determined set point.”

“In other words, if your genetic set point favors misery, making a lot of money or even getting a rock hard body won’t tip the happiness scales in your favor. Sure, you may temporarily feel better following an achievement or gaining some material possession, such as a house, but within a year you’ll be back where you were before the changes occurred.”

I find encouragement in this breakdown, because it gives 40% variation to work with, to put my pursuit into context. These percentages don’t take anything from me, instead they help me to better understand where I stand. While my genetics have perhaps put me at a deficit of 5o%, they’ve contributed to my inquisitive nature and love of learning, and experiencing life, they’ve given me 40% to be undeterred in this pursuit.



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