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Could Genetics Be Key to a Nation's Happiness?

People in certain countries more likely to have a gene variant linked to sensory pleasure, study finds

MONDAY, Jan. 18, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- There appears to be a genetic basis for happiness levels in countries around the world, new research reports.

And a pleasant climate apparently helps, the findings suggested.

For the study, researchers analyzed data gathered by the World Values Survey between 2000 and 2014. The investigators found that people in countries that have the highest happiness ratings are more likely to have a specific version (allele) of a gene variant that boosts sensory pleasure and reduces pain.

Nations with the highest percentages of people with the A allele in the FAAH gene variant rs324420 were the happiest, according to the report. These countries included Ghana and Nigeria in West Africa, and northern Latin American nations, such as Mexico and Colombia.

Nations with the lowest rates of the allele were least likely to rate themselves as "very happy," and included China, Hong Kong, Iraq, Jordan, Taiwan and Thailand, the study authors said.

A nation's climate also appeared to have a major impact on happiness, according to the report in the Journal of Happiness Studies.

"It seems that some equatorial and tropical environments select for a higher occurrence of the A allele as a counterbalance to environmental stressors," study co-author Michael Minkov said in a journal news release. He is with the Varna University of Management in Bulgaria.

The researchers said that economic wealth, law systems and disease patterns were not major factors in nations' happiness levels. However, they pointed out that politics and economics did cause fluctuations in happiness levels in some countries during the study period.

But people in countries without beneficial genes and climate don't need to be concerned, the study authors said. They studied only differences between nations, not absolute measures.

"In other words," study co-author Michael Bond, of Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said, "we have not shown that a nation's genetic and climatic heritage doom a particular country to a specific happiness score, but that it can still rise and fall because of situational factors."

More information

The Berkeley Greater Good Science Center has more about happiness.

SOURCE: Journal of Happiness Studies, news release, Jan. 14, 2016

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