Genetic and Environmental Determinants of Happiness Nature Essay

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Genetic and Environmental Determinants of Happiness

Nature vs. Nurture

How happy we feel is determined both by our genetic makeup and the way we live our lives. A significant body of research has shown that close ties to family and friends may overcome a genetic disinclination towards feelings of happiness and well-being. There are other steps that individuals can take to improve how happy they feel, including improving diet, exercise, spiritual practices, and cognitive therapy. Science may have thus provided enough options that any genetic shortcoming towards feeling happiness may have become irrelevant.

Genetic and Environmental Determinants of Happiness

Nature vs. nurture is a way of contrasting the genetic and environmental contributions to an individual's personality, disposition, and behavioral repertoire (The Open University, 2007, p. 104). Although the term 'nature vs. nurture debate' is still used today, it isn't much of a debate any longer. Countless genetic and behavioral studies have shown that both influence human behavior to varying degrees and that the interactions between genetic and environmental determinants of behavior can be quite complex.

Inclined to be Happy

Take the sensation of happiness for example. Studies with identical twins have shown that when happiness is frequently experienced by one member of a twin pair then the other member is more likely to feel happy as well (Layard, 2005, p. 235). This finding suggests that our propensity to feel happiness is at least in part determined by our ancestral gene pool and that some will feel happy with less effort, while the rest of us will have to work a little harder to find happiness.

Nurturing Happiness

Much more attention has been paid to the role that the environment plays in determining how happy we are. This makes intuitive sense, because we currently don't have the tools necessary for making changes to our genetic material in order to increase our chances of feeling happy. That leaves us one option if we wish to experience more happiness in our lives; we need to be proactive about altering the internal and external environments in ways that encourage a sense of well-being.

According to Layard (2005) the factor having the biggest influence on how happy we feel is the quality of our relationships with family members and friends, so much so that it may be more than genetic determinants. This conclusion is supported by a number of studies, including a UNICEF (2007) survey of 21 of the richest countries that ranked UK children at the bottom because their relationships to family members were of poor quality. A study by the Children's Society in the UK came up with a similar result, reporting that children felt the most important determinants of happiness were close relationships with family and friends, and feeling loved and supported. Although wealth has long been considered by some to be a path to happiness, Lane (2000, p. 6) argued that once wealth has increased enough to keep poverty at bay the most important factor for determining happiness is close relationships with family and friends.

Many don't have the option of improving their relationships with family and friends, at least not without a major investment of courage and time. Luckily, science has revealed that there are other options for increasing the prevalence of happiness. For example, our propensity to feel happy can be improved by eating a balanced diet that includes complex carbohydrates (Wurtman, 1996), getting regular exercise, and participating in meditation/mindfulness training (Davidson, Jackson, and Kalin, 2000; Davidson and Kabat-Zinn, 2003). Feelings of happiness can thus be nurtured by taking care of our personal physical and spiritual needs.

We may also be able to 'think' our way into feeling happy. Cognitive psychologists have helped patients find their way out of depression by discussing the negative thoughts they may be having and…

Sources Used in Document:


Davidson, R.J., Jackson, D.C. And Kalin, N.H. (2000). Emotion, plasticity, context and regulation: perspectives from affective neuroscience. Psychological Bulletin, 126, 890 -- 906.

Davidson, R.J., Kabat-Zinn, J. et al. (2003). Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation. Psychosomatic Medicine, 65, 564 -- 570.

Lane, R.E. (2000). The Loss of Happiness in Market Democracies. New Haven, CT; Yale

Langer, E. And Rodin, J. (1976). The effects of choice and enhanced personal responsibility for the aged: a field experiment in an institutional setting. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 34, 191 -- 198.

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