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 responses to “The Heritability of Happiness”

  1. 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. 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”.