The Heritability of Happiness

A study looks at how much of our hap­pi­ness can be attrib­uted to our genes?

Neither socioeco­nom­ic status, edu­ca­tion­al attain­ment, fam­ily income, mar­it­al status, nor an indic­ant of reli­gious com­mit­ment could account for more than about 3% of the vari­ance in well-being (WB). From 44% to 52% of the vari­ance in WB, how­ever, is asso­ci­ated with genet­ic vari­ation. Based on the retest of smal­ler samples of twins after inter­vals of 4, 5 and 10 years, we estim­ate that the her­it­ab­il­ity of the stable com­pon­ent of sub­ject­ive well-being approaches 80%.

This high per­cent­age was quite sur­pris­ing, seem­ingly not leav­ing much ‘space’ for the oth­er determ­in­ants of hap­pi­ness to make much dif­fer­ence.

The study begins with:

Are those people who go to work in suits hap­pi­er and more ful­filled than those who go in over­alls? Do people high­er on the socioeco­nom­ic lad­der enjoy life more than those lower down? Can money buy hap­pi­ness? As a con­sequence of racism and rel­at­ive poverty, are black Amer­ic­ans less con­ten­ted on aver­age than white Amer­ic­ans? Because men still hold the reins of power, are men hap­pi­er than women? [This study] indic­ated that the answer to these ques­tions, sur­pris­ingly, is “no”. [The] authors poin­ted out that people have a remark­able abil­ity to adapt, both to bad for­tune and to good, so that one’s life cir­cum­stances, unless they are very bad indeed, do not seem to have last­ing effects on one’s mood.

via @bakadesuyo

2 thoughts on “The Heritability of Happiness

  1. david

    I’d really want to see a study of genet­ic sib­lings raised in dif­fer­ent homes before I’d give much cre­dence to a gene-based the­ory. See­ing no men­tion of par­ent­age etc, I feel reas­on­ably safe in assum­ing that that they’ve done noth­ing to con­sider the dis­pos­i­tions of people”s fam­ily and friends, which seems to me as likely the cause of the effects described as the one the authors chose.

  2. Lloyd Morgan Post author

    I agree com­pletely, Dav­id.

    Your point reminds me of the con­clu­sion from this study look­ing at how net­work effects can be found for any hypo­thes­is (I poin­ted to it in Jan ’09):

    Research­ers should be cau­tious in attrib­ut­ing cor­rel­a­tions in health out­comes of close friends to social net­work effects, espe­cially when envir­on­ment­al con­founders are not adequately con­trolled for in the ana­lys­is.

    In that quote, change “close friends” to read “rel­at­ives” and “social net­work effects” to read “genet­ics”.

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