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

Technological Affluence and Happiness (Everything Except TV is Good)

In a study probing the association between ‘technological affluence’ and general well-being it was found that computers, mobile phones and music players increased self-reported levels of happiness, while television ownership decreased it.

That is: the ownership of most modern technological goods makes us happy, except for televisions, which make us sad.

Using self-reported life satisfaction as a measure of subjective well-being we find that a fixed phone, a mobile phone, a compact disk player, a computer and an Internet connection are all associated with higher levels of well-being, whereas television sets are associated with lower levels. We further provide evidence suggesting that the level of mobile and broadband penetration matters for life satisfaction as well. Our estimates indicate that, at a minimum, an individual requires a 10% increase in GDP per capita as compensation to [cease] holding these products. Further implications suggest that increasing mobile penetration by 10% has limited effects on implied GDP per capita, contrary to a similar increase in broadband penetration.

via Tim Harford

A Summary of Happiness Research

David Brooks brings ‘happiness research’ back to the wider public’s attention with a succinct summary of research into what does and does not make us happy:

Would you exchange a tremendous professional triumph for a severe personal blow? […]

If you had to take more than three seconds to think about this question, you are absolutely crazy. Marital happiness is far more important than anything else in determining personal well-being. If you have a successful marriage, it doesn’t matter how many professional setbacks you endure, you will be reasonably happy. If you have an unsuccessful marriage, it doesn’t matter how many career triumphs you record, you will remain significantly unfulfilled.

Brooks goes on to look at the confusing correlations between happiness and wealth before discussing the wider “correspondence between personal relationships and happiness”:

The daily activities most associated with happiness are sex, socializing after work and having dinner with others. The daily activity most injurious to happiness is commuting. According to one study, joining a group that meets even just once a month produces the same happiness gain as doubling your income. According to another, being married produces a psychic gain equivalent to more than $100,000 a year.

If you want to find a good place to live, just ask people if they trust their neighbors. Levels of social trust vary enormously, but countries with high social trust have happier people, better health, more efficient government, more economic growth, and less fear of crime (regardless of whether actual crime rates are increasing or decreasing).

via Fred Wilson

I discussed the ‘commuters paradox’ last year, noting that “a person with a one-hour commute has to earn 40 percent more money to be as satisfied with life as someone who walks to the office”.

The Rise of Cooking Shows, the Fall of Cooking (and Happiness)

I almost ignored this bit-too-long piece on the rise of the TV cooking show and the simultaneous fall of the home cooked meal (via @borrodell).

That decline has several causes: women working outside the home; food companies persuading Americans to let them do the cooking; and advances in technology that made it easier for them to do so. Cooking is no longer obligatory, and for many people, women especially, that has been a blessing. But perhaps a mixed blessing, to judge by the culture’s continuing, if not deepening, fascination with the subject. It has been easier for us to give up cooking than it has been to give up talking about it — and watching it.

But combined with this short article discussing the joys a cooking show brought to one family, and the myriad benefits it brought to their children, I felt they were perfect complements.

A funny thing happened on the way through the cooking show obsession. What we were seeing on the screen began trickling into our kitchen. The kids suddenly perked up during our weekly visits to the local farmers’ market, insisting on checking out exotic fruits and vegetables and, even better, buying, preparing, and eating them. […]

What are they learning? How do I count the ways? Fine motor skills from chopping garlic. Multi-tasking from sautéing vegetables in olive oil. (Case in point is their startling realization that you can’t just leave a saucepan unattended; this skill requires the need to overcome any tendencies for ADD.) They’ve honed their organization and math skills, practiced quick thinking, and stretched to develop some original ideas. […] And, best of all, my kids are actually eating and enjoying copious vegetables and a variety of other healthful and exotic foods.

The latter article also notes that a strong negative correlation has been found between the amount of television watched and happiness. This does not surprise me.

Evidence-Based Methods to Become Lucky

In an attempt to discover whether there were genuine personality traits that separate the lucky from the unlucky, Richard Wiseman studied 400 people over a number of years and discovered that there are indeed behavioural differences between the lucky and luckless—and that we can ‘learn’ these traits to improve our luck.

Wiseman states that the lucky “generate good fortune via four basic principles”:

  • Creating and noticing chance opportunities.
  • Making lucky decisions by listening to their intuition.
  • Creating self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations.
  • Adopting a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.

And by realising this and following three simple techniques, you can improve your luck:

  1. Follow your intuition and respect hunches in decision making.
  2. Introduce variety into your life.
  3. See the positive side of misfortune: imagine how things could be worse.

Of the people that followed this advice, 80% identified improvements to their luck and overall happiness.