Happiness Is Partly Inherited
By LiveScience Staff
The key to happiness may lie in your genes.
Psychologists at the University of Edinburgh and the Queensland Institute for Medical Research in Australia have found that happiness is partly determined by personality traits that are largely hereditary, along with your situation in life.
The researchers used a personality test called the Five-Factor Model on more than 990 twin pairs. Matching that with happiness data taken from the pairs, they found that people who do not excessively worry, and who are sociable and conscientious tend to be happier.
The research, detailed in the March issue of the journal Psychological Science, identified evidence for common genes that result in the personality traits that predispose people to happiness, the researchers said.
"Although happiness is subject to a wide range of external influences we have found that there is a heritable component of happiness which can be entirely explained by genetic architecture of personality," said study team leader Alexander Weiss of the University of Edinburgh.
While these genes won't guarantee happiness, the personality mix they result in could act as a trigger when bad things happen, allowing people to have an "affective reserve" of happiness that can be called upon in stressful times.
And while the genetic influence is strong, about 50 percent of the differences in people's happiness in life can still be chalked up to a variety of external factors, such as relationships, health and careers. Research done by Ed Diener of the University of Illinois finds that the happiest people have strong friendships, for example.
5 Things That Will Make You Happier
By Clara Moskowitz, LiveScience Senior Writer
SAN DIEGO – The pursuit of happiness is sometimes easier said than done.
Some scientists have argued that happiness is largely determined by genetics, health and other factors mostly outside of our control. But recent research suggests people actually can take charge of their own happiness and boost it through certain practices.
"The billion-dollar question is, is it possible to become happier?" said psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky of the University of California, Riverside. "Despite the finding that happiness is partially genetically determined, and despite the finding that life situations have a smaller influence on our happiness than we think they do, we argue that still a large portion of happiness is in our power to change."
Psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky spoke here Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She and colleagues last year reviewed 51 studies that tested attempts to increase happiness through different types of positive thinking, and found that these practices can significantly enhance well-being. The results were published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology.
Here are five things that research has shown can improve happiness:
1. Be grateful – Some study participants were asked to write letters of gratitude to people who had helped them in some way. The study found that these people reported a lasting increase in happiness – over weeks and even months – after implementing the habit. What's even more surprising: Sending the letter is not necessary. Even when people wrote letters but never delivered them to the addressee, they still reported feeling better afterwards.
2. Be optimistic – Another practice that seems to help is optimistic thinking. Study participants were asked to visualize an ideal future – for example, living with a loving and supportive partner, or finding a job that was fulfilling – and describe the image in a journal entry. After doing this for a few weeks, these people too reported increased feelings of well-being.
3. Count your blessings – People who practice writing down three good things that have happened to them every week show significant boosts in happiness, studies have found. It seems the act of focusing on the positive helps people remember reasons to be glad.
4. Use your strengths – Another study asked people to identify their greatest strengths, and then to try to use these strengths in new ways. For example, someone who says they have a good sense of humor could try telling jokes to lighten up business meetings or cheer up sad friends. This habit, too, seems to heighten happiness.
5. Commit acts of kindness – It turns out helping others also helps ourselves. People who donate time or money to charity, or who altruistically assist people in need, report improvements in their own happiness.