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Happy Genes

Updated: Jun 17, 2019

By Xin Yao Zheng

You just took a test and you didn’t know how to answer any of the questions. Then, like a secret alliance, multiple teachers give you excessive homework to “practice” for their tests. On top of all this, you have to take care of your younger siblings because your parents have work. Stress from similar situations, makes you feel uncomfortable, although you may experience an adrenaline rush at first, but in the end you will be tired and worried during these situations. Generally speaking, when people are forced to do something, they wouldn’t like it because it's not their intention. For example, when you force a seven year year to do homework, he/she probably wouldn’t like it because, well, kids don’t like homework, however, if you were to tell the same seven year old to play, he/she will do so glad.

Well, what gives us this happiness chemically?

Happiness could be triggered by chemicals in our brains. For example, the most famous chemicals that triggers happiness is dopamine. Dopamine or the “reward” molecule is a chemical signal that grants us happiness when we do pleasurable activities such as eating and exercising. Another chemical that has been linked to happiness is GABA, which is the anti-anxiety molecule, that calms the mind when we relax.

With these chemical signals that control our emotions, there could be disorders that changes the production or the release of these molecules and that will make them unable to feel “happy”.

SNPs or single nucleotide polymorphism are single nucleotide variation that has a huge effect on a person’s characteristics. For example, rs1042725 is a SNP that plays a significant role in determining the height of a human.

One hundred forty researchers used genetic information from 300,000 to identify genes that are associated with the three phenotypes tested. These phenotypes include subjective well being (happiness), depression and neuroticism. The researchers asked the participants questions to identify the participants’ phenotype. The researchers found commonalities in the participant's genomic sequence between people with the same phenotype. The researchers concluded that there are three genetic variants that are associated with subjective happiness(1), two variants of a gene that is associated with depression and eleven variants associated with neuroticism. These results were published in Nature Genetics in 2016.

However, this isn’t to say that people with these genetics variants will be one hundred percent happy. Dr. Daniel Benjamin, an associate professor at the University of Southern California Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, said that environment factors (ie. culture and income of the household) are also very important to a person’s state of happiness.

Centers of Disease Control and Protection reported that there is an 8.1% chance that a person over the age of 20 will get depression in any two week period. We can better treat these patients if we can find the genetics causing these symptoms. One potential way to resolve this issue is to use gene therapy. With newer and better technology it is not impossible to alter the DNA of every single cell of the human body. Thereby curing any genetic disorder that a person may have.


1. a scale that measures a person’s happiness level based on their relationships, health, community and occupation

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