The Other I

October 29, 2011

Looking for happiness

True Happiness David ChernoffHappiness these days seems to be a popular research topic.  What makes us happy?  what kind of people are happy?  is it genetic?  how much does it depend on our circumstances?  does enough money make us happy?   does more money make us happier?  Do the same things make people happy or cause them unhappiness?

If I were still an active academic, I think I would write a summary of this fascinating research in progress.  Happiness is a lot more complicated than I would have believed.

Many things influence happiness.  Generally speaking, the employed are happier than the unemployed, the young and old tend to be happier than the middle-aged, extroverts are happier than introverts, confident people are happier than their less confident contemporaries.  There are people who believe  we can teach ourselves to be happier, or that we need sunshine to be happy.

One study about a “happiness gene” has particularly intrigued me.  Researchers have known for some time that the capacity for happiness is partly genetically controlled, and have identified the gene that seems to be principally responsible for these differences.

A recent study found that Asian Americans tend to have fewer “happiness genes” than  White Americans and  Black Americans have more than White Americans.

There is a need for much broader study before reaching too-far reaching conclusions, but studies suggests that these serotonin-transporter or happiness genes tend to concentrate in ethnic groups, and so may reflect fundamentally genetic differences in societies, even in countries.

Furthermore, in societies such as China and Japan which have lower levels of effective mood elevating genes, people seem to prefer political systems that emphasize harmony and provide relatively high levels of security.  Entire countries with different levels of happiness genes may prefer greater levels of individual independence even at the cost of greater risk.

So the happiness question isn’t just of interest to psychologists anymore.  Politicians and economists are equally interested for reasons of their own.

In any case, it seems clear that one size does not fit all.  There isn’t going to be a system out there that will make everybody happy.






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