Why is it harder for some people to be happy?

The self-help industry is booming and is being strengthened by research into positive psychology, the scientific study of what makes a person prosperous. Meanwhile, the rate of anxiety and depression and self-harm is increasing worldwide. So are we doomed to be unhappy despite these psychological advances?

According to an influential article published in the Review of General Psychology in 2005, 50% of people’s happiness is determined by their genes, 10% depends on their condition, and 40% depends on their conscious and intentional activity (positive or not). This so-called “happiness cake” empowers positivist psychological assistants and allows them to make decisions about the path to happiness; However, the unspoken message of this view is that if you are not happy, it is your own fault.

The Cake of Happiness was widely criticized; Because it was based on hypotheses about genetics that were out of date. For decades, researchers in behavioral genetics have studied twins and found that between 40 and 50 percent of the changes in their happiness are explained by genetics; For this reason, this percentage appears in the cake of happiness.

Behavioral geneticists use statistical techniques to estimate genetic and environmental components based on family relationships; Therefore, they use twins in their studies. However, the common premise of these figures is that both identical and dissimilar twins experience the same environment when they grow up together. This assumption is not really true.

In response to criticism of the 2005 article, the same authors wrote a 2019 article in which they introduced a more subtle approach to studying the effect of genes on happiness that considers the interaction between genetics and the environment.

Nature and breeding

Nature and upbringing are not independent of each other. Conversely, molecular genetics, the study of the structure and function of genes at the molecular level, shows that they interact continuously. Genes influence behavior that helps people choose their environment. For example, extroversion that is passed from parents to children helps children to form their own friendship groups. Similarly, the environment affects the expression of genes. For example, when pregnant mothers were exposed to famine, their children’s genes were also affected, leading to chemical changes that suppressed growth factor production. This has led to babies being born smaller than normal and suffering from diseases such as cardiovascular disease.

Nature and upbringing are interdependent and constantly interact; For this reason, two people who grew up in the same environment may respond differently; This means that this behavioral genetic assumption about the same environment is no longer valid. Also, whether people can be happier or not depends on their “environmental sensitivity,” that is, their ability to change.

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Some people are sensitive to their environment and can radically change their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in response to positive and negative events. Therefore, such people may be affected by participating in a welfare workshop or reading a book on positive psychology and experience significant changes compared to others, and these changes may be more lasting.

There is no positive psychological intervention that is beneficial to everyone; Because just as our DNA is unique, so we are unique and have different capacities for well-being and fluctuations throughout life. So, is it our destiny not to be happy? Some people may have more difficulty improving their well-being than others, which means they will be unhappy for longer. In extreme cases, they may never experience much happiness.

People who have more genetic flexibility, that is, are more sensitive to the environment, have a greater capacity for change; But they may be able to improve their well-being and may flourish more if they adopt a healthy lifestyle and decide to work and live in an environment that enhances their happiness and ability to grow.

Finally, we must say that even if genetics play an important role in our well-being, they do not determine who we are. The important thing is the choices we make about where we live and the people we live with and how we live. These things affect both our happiness and the happiness of future generations.

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