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What makes us happy?

Why are some people happy and others miserable?

Well, without getting too scientific; it could be down to loads of things. It might be due to events, it could be your environment or maybe just genetics. But most probably it’s a mixture of all three and other circumstances combined.

So what really makes the difference between Morrissey and an overly-bubbly weather presenter?

According to a recent article in the Economist, happiness is in your DNA and different races have different propensities for happiness.

It used to be thought that the human personality was a blank slate, but scientists now think this is incorrect. They have studied identical twins and compared them to non-identical twins, deciding that many aspects of behaviour are heriditary. DNA examination has unearthed happy or misery genes; so happy people are simply blessed with a happy gene.

Obviously, there are many factors involved in determining if you are happy; a job helps, money certainly ups the quotient and age also plays a role. Apparently the young and old are generally more content than the middle-aged, but the biggest determinant appears to be personality. Introverts are more miserable than extroverts and confident people are happier than anxious ones.

So where does personality come from? Intelligence is hereditary, to an extent, and so is personality. In their paper, ‘Genes, Economics and Happiness’, scientists from four top universities, studied 1000 pairs of twins, from a large US study of teenagers.They concluded about one third of variations in happiness is down to genetics.

Being a twin must be a little bit like being a lab-rat – all are useful in establishing the extent of heritable characteristics, but Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, from University College London, searched for the specific gene that is responsible for the serotonin-transporter protein that affects our levels of happiness.

Essentially, serotonin regulates our moods and the transporter gene has two variants; the long and the short. We all have two versions (alleles), one from each parent. Consequently some people have two short alleles, some two long ones and others one of each.

Then the thorny issue of race raises it head.

The subjects in the study were all American, but were classified by ethnicity. The study said Asian Americans had 0.69 long genes, white Americans, 1.12 and black Americans 1.47.

Other research shows Asian countries do show lower levels of happiness in general, when GDP is taken into consideration, African countries are the most genetically diverse (where humanity evolved) and so their results are randomly variable, but the assumption is the Danes and Swedes are the happiest people in the world.

Inequality is the biggest driving force in national happiness or gloom and so the study of happiness becomes an increasingly interesting area for geneticists, scientists, economists and politicians, all of whom are looking for new ways to measure human achievement as more tangible constructs collapse around us.

Nigel Phillips

I was happy in the haze of a drunken hour
But heaven knows I’m miserable now

I was looking for a job, and then I found a job
And heaven knows I’m miserable now.

In my life
Why do I give valuable time
To people who don’t care if I live or die?

Two lovers entwined pass me by
And heaven knows I’m miserable now.

The Smiths.

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