News That Could Make You Feel Very Happy! (Or Not)

How you cope with life comes down to the receptors in your genes

In another example of life’s fundamental unfairness, researchers at UCLA have managed to isolate a gene that’s linked to optimism, self-esteem and “mastery”—the sense that you’re in charge of your own destiny. According to Shelley E. Taylor, a psychologist and senior author of a new study, your basic sunny-ness or lack thereof is due to your oxytocin receptor gene, or OXTR, which regulates your susceptibility to stress, mental disorders and lousy interpersonal skills. Oxytocin is a hormone that the body puts out in times of stress; research has shown it’s linked to empathy and other positive social skills.

There are two versions of the OXTR, the A and the G. You want two G’s, not two A’s or an A and a G, since either of the latter means you’re less optimistic, are more likely to exhibit depressive symptoms and have lower self-esteem than lucky GG types.

This makes sense. All of us know people who are incredibly adept at rolling with life’s punches—who take whatever comes along, absorb the blows, and keep on keeping on. We also all know folks for whom the slightest road bump turns into Kilimanjaro. If you’re the former, the latter type of people must seem incredibly needy and self-absorbed and annoying. If you’re the latter, I imagine observing fellow humans who don’t get thrown off their stride by anything must make you want to scratch out their eyes.

The possibilities this opens up for premarital (or at least pre-coital) genetic testing are a little unsettling. If you knew you could select a mate whose genes, matched with yours, would give you resilient, cheerful children, would you? Jesus, why wouldn‘t you?

Of course, Taylor goes out of her way to emphasize that biology isn’t all of the puzzle, and that environment and nurturing can affect life outcomes. But face it: The truth is, you’re doomed to be either gay or gloomy. At least now you know where to lay the blame.