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New research from Edinburgh University claims that happiness is partly determined by your genes.

In fact, they claim that

genes may control half the personality traits keeping us happy. The other half is linked to lifestyle, career and relationships

This study was one of those identical twin studies where the researchers compare identical twins. These studies are great favourites with psychologists and are used to highlight traits which each twin (who has his or her own uniquely different social setting) shares – as the twins have different social backgrounds, the commonalities are reckoned to be more to do with their shared genetic make-up.

The Edinburgh researchers looked at the presence of three traits – tendency to worry, sociability and conscientiousness – all three of which have been linked to happiness and well-being in other studies.

“Although happiness is subject to a wide range of external influences we have found there is a heritable component of happiness which can be entirely explained by genetic architecture of personality.”

So, is this a depressing study? No, not at all. It strikes me as very logical that part of who we are is influenced by our genes – we are dealt a hand we have to play. And part is determined by modifiable factors in our lives. This conclusion is supported by those who promote positive psychology techniques. Dr Alex Linley of the Centre for Applied Positive Psychology said –

“What it means is that, rather than a single point, people have a range of possible levels of happiness – and it is perfectly possible to influence this with techniques that are empirically proven to work. “Simple things, like listing your strengths and using them in new ways every day, or keeping a journal where you write down, every night, three things that you are grateful for, have been shown to deliver improvements.”

I agree with him. There’s a lot of mileage in understanding what our range is (the hand we are dealt) and learning how to grow within that range to have the best experience of life we can.  In fact, I think this is a more defensible view than the New Age kind of thinking promoted in the likes of the “you can be anything you want to be” brigade.

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