What makes you happy? Watching cute animal videos and indulging in your hobbies may brighten up your day, but new research suggests that genetics have more to do with your happiness than you think.
TV presenter Richard Madeley’s daughter recently described her father as having a “talent for happiness”, which could be true. Think of the people in your life who seem naturally sunnier than everyone else. Are their lives truly perfect, or do they have a genetic advantage?
Read on to discover how much of your joy is hereditary, and what you can do to improve your life today.
How can genes affect happiness?
Research reported by the Independent found that wellbeing and life satisfaction – two important factors in a person’s overall happiness – are 30 to 40% heritable.
The study uncovered an astounding 927 genes that can affect our cheerfulness, meaning that some people are simply born with a happier disposition than others.
But don’t be discouraged, as happiness isn’t only determined by a genetic lottery. There’s also evidence to suggest that your lifestyle choices can have a huge impact on your emotional wellbeing.
The Harvard Study of Adult Development began in 1938 and is still running today, making it the longest study into happiness ever conducted.
After doing regular medical checks – including brain scans and blood tests – on the same families over three generations, they concluded that while some aspects of happiness are genetic, your environment still plays a huge part.
Robert Waldinger, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, says: “We found that the people in our study who kept prioritising connections, and kept making those small decisions to connect day after day, were the people who stayed happier and healthier”.
How can your environment affect happiness?
Many of the studies researching happiness use identical twins as their subjects, as they have matching genes but different life experiences. Nature and nurture influence each other and our behaviour constantly, making it hard to pin down which has more impact than the other.
Scientists suggest that people’s capacity to change – also known as their “environmental sensitivity” – can affect their ability to make their lives happier.
Those with a high environmental sensitivity are influenced more by their surroundings, or nurture. While this can have negative impacts on their happiness, it also means that if they attend a wellbeing class or read a self-help book, they are more likely to make and stick to positive changes in their life.
Allowing yourself to appreciate your surroundings and being more open to change can help you to create brilliant new habits that will improve your life in the long run.
How can you be happier?
Although you can’t change your genes, there are some things you can do to improve your life satisfaction.
Spend quality time with your loved ones
Family dinners, meeting up for coffee with friends, and celebrating special occasions with the people you care about are crucial to your happiness.
Keeping up strong connections is one of the most important things you can do to improve your mental health. And if you find yourself going through a tough patch, then you have cultivated an incredible support network to fall back on.
Don’t blow things out of proportion
A failed plan, unexpected disappointment, or unwelcome surprise can easily derail the positive changes you’ve made to your life. It’s important that you pick yourself up after a failure and remember that nothing is as bad as it seems.
You have to learn from your mistakes and try again until you succeed.
Take care of yourself
Making time for self-care – whether that be a long bath, losing yourself in a good book, or ensuring you’re eating healthy meals – is vital to your happiness.
When life gets stressful, you should give yourself time to relax and look after both your body and mind so you can face your challenges with a smile.
Be kind to others
Helping other people can be hard work, but the rewards are worth it.
Whether it’s a random act of kindness on the street or regular volunteer work, something as small as a compliment to a stranger can improve both your days.
Looking after your physical health also boosts your mental health.
Regular exercise and spending time outside reduces your stress levels and boosts your creativity, letting you feel relaxed and inspired as well as healthier.
Don’t chase money
The phrase “money can’t buy happiness” is true – to an extent.
Having enough money to move out of the lowest levels of the economy reduces your risk of depression and other mental health problems, but once all your needs are met, increases in your wealth do not make you more satisfied with your life.
Financial security, however, can reduce underlying stress you may have about your future. Talking to a financial planner or adviser can help to ease any anxieties so you can spend more time looking after yourself without worrying about your bank account.