Happiness is conquering depression. Time and again we have been told that happiness and depression runs in our genes. But do they really run in families? Are they genetic? Seems like an enigma? Not anymore!
Recently, a large scale international genome-wide association study conducted in over 298,000 people by VU Amsterdam professors Philipp Koellinger, Meike Bartels and other scientists from 17 countries isolated parts of the human genome that could explain the differences in how humans experience happiness. This was one of the largest studies ever published on genes involved in human behaviour.
A genome is an organism’s complete set of DNA, including all of its genes. The study was undertaken for 3 phenotypes/traits: happiness/subjective well-being (n = 298,420), depressive symptoms (n = 161,460), and neuroticism (n = 170,911). The researchers found 3 genetic variants for happiness (how happy a person thinks or feels about his or her life), 2 variants that account for differences in symptoms of depression and eleven locations on the human genome where variation was associated with neuroticism. The research also found that the genetic variants for happiness are mainly expressed in the CNS, adrenal glands and pancreatic system.
The research is built on a previous study which found that people in countries like Sweden had lots of FAAH gene that contributes to feelings of pleasure. In contrast, the peoples of Iraq and China were among the least likely to rate themselves as ‘very happy’ and also had the lowest levels of the gene. Prior twin and family research using information from the Netherlands Twin Register have shown that individual differences in happiness and well-being might be linked to genetic differences between people.
“This study is both a milestone and a new beginning: A milestone because we are now certain that there is a genetic aspect to happiness and a new beginning because the three variants that we know are involved account for only a small fraction of the differences between human beings. We expect that many variants will play a part,” said professor Meike Bartles.
Since phenotypes are expressed due to the relation between nature and nurture, locating these variants will help in studying the interplay between them, reinforcing the fact that a person’s happiness is greatly controlled by the environment.
Professor Bartels added: “The genetic overlap with depressive symptoms that we have found is also a breakthrough.”
However, it is important to note that one’s happiness is not entirely dependent on their genetics, though it definitely contributes. The way the environment influences these genes or epigenetics are as important.
However, such a large scale study could finally pave way to understanding why some individuals are biologically predisposed to develop disorders like depression.
The results were published in the journal Nature Genetics.