Is There Such A Thing As A Happy Gene?

Posted on November 4, 2014

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Contrary to what all of the grey-haired men whose girlfriends are twenty-somethings believe, this is not the happiest group of people on the planet.  That distinction belongs to the Danes, who year after year, score at the top or near the top of the Happy Scale.  Scientists have started to study why this might be so, and thus far, the results are mighty interesting.  One study found that Danes, as a group, have a genetic marker that suppresses the loss of serotonin.  In other words, the Danes are walking around with an unusual amount of serotonin in their brains.  At the very least, they have their own serotonin and that of Life in the Boomer Lane’s.

Danes, once they got past their Viking raping and pillaging adolescent period, settled down into being a peaceful, happy lot.  They’ve managed to stay out of world conflict, and have focused instead on creating big dogs and tasty baked goods. Ask the Danes why they are so happy and they will cite their universal health care system, their open-minded drinking culture, and the fact that they leave their babies outside alone in their carriages.  But the truth may be that they are simply hardwired to be happy.

The same study that identified the Danish Happy Gene, found that one’s degree of happiness dimmed the farther from Denmark one got. Armed with nothing more than a small globe and a desire to fill this blog post with words, Life in the Boomer Lane found that New Zealand is the farthest country from Denmark.  She then postulated that New Zealanders are an unhappy lot. Yet this was not the case.  New Zealand ranked way up there on the Happy Planet Index, scoring a 7.2 in Happiness, fairly close to Denmark’s 7.8.  Togo, on the other hand, ranked 2.8, possibly because Gallup was unable to actually find Togo.

Another study found that Danes score high on the So Darn Happy Scale simply because their expectations are so low. In other words, they expect so little, that when things work out in a fairly ordinary or better-than-ordinary way, they become euphoric. Most Danes, when they learned of their big win, were surprised and delighted.

This isn’t the first study to place Denmark at the top of the heap.  The first World Happiness Report, commissioned for the UN Conference on Happiness, was held in April 2012.  The winner: Denmark.  Of course.  One might wonder why the UN, considering the state of affairs of the planet,  has nothing better to do than to hold annual World Happiness contests.  All they really have to do is to read the newspaper to figure out who is happy and who is unhappy.

So, is there a Happy Gene?  Are some countries happy-go-lucky and are others doomed to eternal qvetching?  Bear in mind that when a person qvetches, it’s really annoying.  When an entire country qvetches, you get things like massacres, nuclear weapons, and short demagogues with funny clothing.

Take Armenia, for example. The inclusion of Armenia on every Unhappy Country List might be a shock to anyone who is a devoted follower of “19 Kardashians and Counting,” the popular merchandising reality show. Agaron Adibekian, an Armenian sociologist interviewed recently by the  Associated Press said, “Armenians like being mournful; there have been so many upheavals in the nation’s history. The Americans keep their smiles on and avoid sharing their problems with others. And the Armenians feel ashamed about being successful.”

Of course, political upheaval/famine/living in North Korea goes a long way in making citizens of a country unhappy. Spin the globe and you can figure out for yourself which countries are now high on the Glum List. We won’t address ourselves to that.  Instead, we will get back to a central question: All other things being equal, are certain countries, and, in effect, certain peoples, predisposed to be happy and others not?

First off, we have to make a distinction between unhappiness due to abominable conditions and unhappiness due to genetic make up.  Political upheaval aside, if the Danes are any example, wealth, while allowing one to have real down comforters instead of the fake kind, isn’t a barometer of happiness.  Neither is beautiful scenery, great weather, or the iPhone 6.  Maybe it all does come down to expectations and the ability to accept the worst of what life brings, while taking joy in all the bonuses. Or, it could just be all that blond hair.

Readers Note: Just this morning, while writing this post, LBL saw a reference to yet another survey that has now demoted Denmark to #3 on the Slap Me Silly Happy Survey, behind Panama and Costa Rica.  This opens up a whole new avenue of exploration that can be pursued by people other than LBL.  She has written entirely too much already on this topic and must now leave to take the pills that provide her the minimum daily requirement of serotonin.

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Posted in: humor, research