What’s the Secret to Happiness? Genes and Expectations, Say Two New Studies



Searching for the secret to happiness? Two new studies shed some interesting light.

In one of the most peculiar genetic studies we’ve ever come across, a group of economists from England’s University of Warwick have stuck a pin in the world map of happiness and declared Denmark its epicenter. Literally. Their research helps explain why a tiny Scandinavian nation whose greatest claim to fame is a dubious link to breakfast pastry consistently ranks at the top of studies of bliss.

The Warwick team studied data from 131 countries and found, according to researcher Eugenio Proto, “that the greater a nation’s genetic distance from Denmark, the lower the reported well-being of that nation.” Results, he noted, were adjusted for such factors as gross domestic product, religion, culture and geography. A second project examined research on a gene mutation that influences the reuptake of serotonin, a hormone linked to mood. The gene exists in short and long variants, those with the short form score higher on neuroticism and life dissatisfaction. Of the 30 nations included in this research, Denmark and the Netherlands had the lowest percentage of population expressing the short variant.

Finally, the team examined whether the link between happiness and Danish-ness remained consistent across generations and among dispersed populations. Another researcher, Andrew Oswald, explains: “We used data on the reported well-being of Americans and then looked at which part of the world their ancestors came from.” The result? An “unexplained positive correlation between the happiness today of some nations and the observed happiness of Americans whose ancestors came from these nations, even after controlling for personal income and religion.” Interesting, right?

In another new study—yes, it seems like studying happiness is all the rage right now—researchers at University College London created a math equation to predict a person’s future happiness.  They discovered that happiness doesn’t hinge on whether or not things are going well, but whether or not they are going better than you expected. See the distinction?

Listen to this, from study leader Robb Rutledge: “It is often said that you will be happier if your expectations are lower. We find that there is some truth to this: Lower expectations make it more likely that an outcome will exceed those expectations and have a positive impact on happiness.”

Check out the math equation here. And if you’re not of Danish descent, lower your expectations, dammit.

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