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A Genetic Component to National Differences in Happiness

Abstract

National differences in subjective well-being (SWB) have been attributed to socioeconomic, climatic, and genetic factors. We focus on one particular facet of SWB—happiness or positive affect—measured by the nationally representative World Values Survey (WVS). We find that national percentages of very happy people across the three latest WVS waves (2000–2004, 2005–2009, 2010–2014) are consistently and highly correlated with national prevalence of the rs324420 A allele in the FAAH gene, involved in the hydrolysis of anandamide, a substance that reportedly enhances sensory pleasure and helps reduce pain. Climatic differences are also significantly associated with national differences in happiness, whereas economic wealth, recent economic growth, rule of law, pathogen prevalence, and the distribution of short versus long alleles in the serotonin transporter gene SLC6A4 are not significant predictors of national happiness.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. We were advised that genetically heterogeneous countries, such as Malaysia and Singapore, can be expected to have greater internal dispersion of happiness scores than genetically homogeneous countries, such as Japan. However, heterogeneity versus homogeneity should not be measured simply as presence or absence of diverse ethnic groups, but also in terms of the structure of the population. It is possible that a country like Singapore, where over 80 % are ethnic Chinese, the remaining less than 20 % Indians and Malays create a relatively low dispersion. Vice versa, in a country with large socioeconomic inequality, such as the US, South Africa, and Brazil, there may be a relatively large dispersion even among the same ethnic group. We cannot expect that the FAAH genes will explain all the variance in positive affect at the individual level. Factors such as socioeconomic status may play an equally important role.

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Minkov, M., Bond, M.H. A Genetic Component to National Differences in Happiness. J Happiness Stud 18, 321–340 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-015-9712-y

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Keywords

  • Genes
  • Happiness
  • Positive affect
  • Climate
  • National wealth