Healthy living * Mental wellbeing

Happiness gene identified

 Happiness gene  identified Linked to increased serotonin in the brain

Scientists have for the first time identified a link between a person's level of life satisfaction and a particular gene.

The gene, 5-HTT, governs how the chemical serotonin is delivered to the brain. Serotonin plays a part in many animals' feelings of well-being, including humans. The 5-HTT gene has a variant which can be either long or short. The long version is more efficient, resulting in more serotonin transporters in the brain cell membrane.

As a person inherits the gene from both parents, there are in fact three variations, which can be long-long, long-short or short-short. The long-long version is the most efficient.

In the study, over 2,500 participants in a larger study (the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health) were asked the question "How satisfied are you with your life as a whole?" with five possible answers; very satisfied, satisfied, dissatisfied, very dissatisfied or neither.

Respondents' answers were compared to their version of the 5-HTT gene.

Nearly 70% of those with the long-long version were very satisfied or satisfied, compared to only 40% of those with the short-short version. And having at least one long variant (long-long or long-short) resulted in an increase of 8.5% in the chances of the person being satisfied compared to those with the short-short version.

26% of those with the short-short version were dissatisfied, contrasting with only 20% who have the long-long version.

Commenting on the results, which are published in the Journal of Human Genetics, study leader Jan-Emmanuel De Neve said: "It has long been suspected that this gene plays a role in mental health but this is the first study to show that it is instrumental in shaping our individual happiness levels."

He cautioned that the 5-HTT gene was not the full story.

"The results of our study suggest a strong link between happiness and this functional variation in the 5-HTT gene. Of course, our well-being isn't determined by this one gene - other genes and especially experience throughout the course of life will continue to explain the majority of variation in individual happiness," Dr De Neve said.

"This finding helps to explain why we each have a unique baseline level of happiness and why some people tend to be naturally happier than others, and that's in no small part due to our individual genetic make-up," he added.

This article was published on Fri 6 May 2011



Image © Yuri Arcurs - Fotolia.com


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