What genes you have may play an important role in how happy you are with your life. Especially if you are a woman.New research has discovered a link between a specific type of a gene known as MAOA and how happy women are with their lives. The gene comes in three types depending on how many copies of it are made: low, normal and high.
The gene, known as MAOA, regulates how quickly the brain breaks down feel-good chemicals like dopamine and serotonin.
Low levels of the gene means the brain breaks these chemicals down slower, and they stay active in the brain for longer — basically prolonging the high these women get from daily activities like eating, sleeping and sex.
“I was surprised by the result, because low expression of MAOA has been related to some negative outcomes like alcoholism, aggressiveness and antisocial behaviour,” study researcher Henian Chen, of the University of South Florida, said in a press release. “It’s even called the warrior gene by some scientists, but, at least for women, our study points to a brighter side of this gene.”
The researchers analysed data from a population-based sample of 345 individuals – 193 women and 152 men – participating in Children in the Community, a longitudinal mental health study. The DNA of study subjects had been analysed for MAOA gene variation and their self-reported happiness was scored by a widely used and validated scale.
After controlling for various factors, ranging from age and education to income, the researchers found that women with the low-expression type of MAOA were significantly happier than others. Compared to women with no copies of the low-expression version of the MAOA gene, women with one copy scored higher on the happiness scale and those with two copies increased their score even more.
Interestingly, the happiness-increasing impact of the gene is only apparent in women. Men who have the low level version of the gene don’t seem any happier than men with the high-level version. The study researchers think that higher levels of testosterone in men balance out the effect of MAOA.
This has actually been seen before, in studies of general happiness in people. In general, women report being happier, but they also are more likely to suffer from mood disorders like anxiety and depression.
More research is needed though. Previous studies have indicated that only about 30 per cent to 50 per cent of the variation between any given people is due to their genes. This gene is only one of many that are probably involved in what makes us happy.
“I think the time is right for more genetic studies that focus on well-being and happiness,” Chen said in the release. “Certainly it could be argued that how well-being is enhanced deserves at least as much attention as how (mental) disorders arise; however, such knowledge remains limited.”
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