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by Lucy McCarraher & Annabel Shaw


The Happy Gene

It seems that for each one of us there is a characteristic level of happiness which is inherited. Research just published in the Journal of Human Genetics and reported in todays Guardian - Gene helps explain happiness levels - provides further support to the long held idea of a genetically-determined set point (or set range) for happiness. Previous research, based on twin studies and adoption studies, suggests that the heritability factor may be as high as 50%.

As Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, who led the recent study, said “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..."

This is good news because it leaves us with something to play with. If we also take away 10% for the effect of life events or circumstances outside of our control, which research seems to suggest is an accurate estimate,1 then that still leaves us with 40%.

Whilst we can’t do anything to change what we are born with, changing our intentional activities - the things that we can do something about - may provide a happiness-boosting potential that is at least larger than changing what we are born into - our circumstances. I’m happy with that equation.

It’s especially good news for those of us who have had the misfortune of experiencing more than a fair share of negative life events.

However, whilst there has been a decent amount of research into the heritability of happiness there has historically been surprisingly little scientific research concerned with the  question of how happiness can be increased. Perhaps we also inherit a ‘pessimism gene’ - encouraged and sustained by the concepts of genetic determinism.

But this is all changing. There is now a growing body of evidence showing that there is much that we can do to raise our happiness set-point and keep it raised. The results are impressive and give good reason to think about how what we do can affect how we feel. If you want to know more you need to read The Real Secret book where we translate this research into simple (but not necessarily easy) steps that can make you feel happier.

After all, 40 % is still only half full. If I could raise my level of happiness by as much as 10% I’d at least give it a try.

Posted by Annabel

Lyubomirsky, S. (2001). Why are some people happier than others?: The role of cognitive and
motivational processes in well-being. American Psychologist, 56, 239-249.

Graphic courtesy of Action for Happiness 

For ways to raise your own, or someone else's happiness levels, get your copy of The Real Secret in paperback and Kindle on and

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