Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Happy is as Happy Does
I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness these days my girlfriends. This is not because I am particularly unhappy. On the contrary. I’m pretty blissful. No I am not one of those women who “protests too much”. You know the ones. The ones who tell you they are gleeful when really they are one step away from misery.
Nor would I say that I am a sister who likes to sit and sulk. Sure, I have been known at times to be a bit manic in my moods- somewhere between outright joy and downright postal. But these days I find I’m a bit more centred. My Chakras seemed to be aligned where once they ran free and I’m grateful for the stability. Stay tuned of course- the winds could change, but I could not help but ask myself why the sudden change in perspective?
In short, I’m kind of wondering what is it that makes us happy?
According to researchers at Harvard University there is in fact a “happy gene”. The gene called 5-HTT is responsible for how well nerve cells in the brain manage to distribute serotonin. Serotonin is essentially a chemical produced by the brain that is known as the happy hormone. It is a neurotransmitter that controls mood. People with lower levels of serotonin in the brain are more prone to depression. The study published in the Journal of Human Genetics in May, 2011 shows that the gene is found in either a LONG or SHORT form in our DNA. If the gene is found as a “long” version- it transports more serotonin. If it found in a “short” version- it transports less serotonin
Now, a lesson in genetics. We inherit a copy of each gene from each parent. So if you think about it the combinations of this gene could be:
These different combinations are called VARIANTS.
Dr. Jan Emmanuel De Neve asked more than 2500 people in the US how satisfied they were with their lives and then sequenced their DNA for the presence of the variants of the 5-HTT gene. Sure enough the results showed that people who were either VERY satisfied or satisfied with their lives were twice as likely to carry the LONG-LONG variant of the gene. A total of 69% of these people had this variant. Furthermore, only 20% of people who were not satisfied with their lives had the LONG-LONG variant of the gene.
What this study shows is that happiness can be genetically predetermined but by no means is this a done deal. According to further researchers Dr. Read, Dr. Deiner and Dr. Burns who are neuroscientists and doctors in the fields of positive psychology happiness is about a 50:10:40 split. This means that 50% of our happiness is genetically predetermined. This is our “genetic set point” This means that we always fall back on this innate genetic set point to our happiness. Fascinatingly our circumstances account for only 10% of our happiness. This means your job, your car and yes, girlfriends, you closet only accounts for about 10% of how joyful you are.
Yes, I know what you are thinking my cybersisters… these science dudes have not seen my closet- but nonetheless, my 10% runneth over.
The remaining 40% of our happiness is up for grabs and can be shaped by what certain patterns of behaviour and certain techniques. According to psotive psychologists- this remaining 40% is a function of our interpersonal relationships, our sense of connectedness with the world around us, our physical acitivty (such as exercise) and our sense of community (our ability to feel compassion for others and to do good deeds). We can increase our level of happiness by increasing any one of these things in our lives. A greater connection with friends and family or a greater commitment to the world around us or, yes, even a greater commitment to moving one’s ass can increase one’s happiness.
And so I reflect upon the year that has been and the years to come. No I will not have my genes sequenced to find out what variant of the 5-HTT gene I have. I am furious enough at my lineage for giving me a genetic code that I am now forced to make the best of.
Instead, when it comes to my happiness I will flourish in the valley of my 10% (AKA: my shoe closet) and I will dwell in the possibilities of the remaining 40%. Here goes me my girlfriends blazing forth into it all with a renewed sense to make a difference in the world and to foster meaningful relationships with others. Rest assured my cybersisters, I will, of course be dressed appropriately.