- Happiness is only partially determined by your genes, and the rest comes down to lifestyle and other environmental factors that you can control.
- The three main components of happiness are life satisfaction, feeling engaged in everyday activities, and feeling you have a purpose in life.
- There are proven ways to increase happiness, including volunteering, exercise, getting out in nature, and having a spiritual practice, among others.
- This article was medically reviewed by Alisa Ruby Bash, PsyD, LMFT, in Malibu, California.
- Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.
Some people seem to be born with a happier, carefree disposition than others, and research indicates that â€” yes â€” some of your sense of well-being may be in your genes. But only partly.
But that doesn’t mean that if you weren’t born with certain genes, you’re destined to be unhappy. Zinn says that “it’s completely possible to rewire our brains for happiness,” because the other 60% of happiness comes down to lifestyle and other environmental factors.
Learn more about how your genetic makeup contributes to your life satisfaction and how you can increase feelings of happiness and well-being regardless of what your genetic sequence might say about you.
Happiness is typically determined by three main components, according to Zinn:
- Life satisfaction. This is usually linked to positive emotions based on past, present, and projected future experiences. Specifically, your past can influence future life satisfaction by how you frame the future in your mind. For instance, if you suffered from trauma in the past, then you may think your future will not be satisfying because you envision worst-case scenarios.
- Feeling engaged with what you do every day. Be it at work, in relationships, or in your leisure time, it’s important to feel invested in the people you spend time with, your career, or hobbies.
- Having meaning and purpose in life. This may be described as feeling that what you do in life is important, that you have goals or aspirations, or perhaps what you do helps others.
Is there a Happiness Gene?
Research indicates that we can inherit many traits including optimism, self-esteem, and happiness. So by that logic, yes, there are genes that may predispose you to a happier disposition.
For example, a 2011 study found promising evidence that people with a certain form of the gene called 5-HTTLPR reported higher life satisfaction.
And a landmark study in 2016 that formally linked happiness to genetics involved the DNA of nearly 300,000 people. The researchers pinpointed three specific genetic variants associated with well-being. But they also found that these genetic variations weren’t the only factor. An interplay of genetics and environment also contributed to happiness.
Can You Learn to Be Happier?
Despite your genetic makeup, there are ways you can learn to be happier, even in difficult times. Other traits, such as resilience, can be cultivated over time.
“You have a choice,” Zinn says. “It’s no different than deciding what to wear or what food to order. When it comes to happiness, there’s a lot we can do about it.”
One way to achieve a happier state is to let go of a quest for perfectionism that focuses only on the end goal of success, Zinn says. Linking happiness with perfectionism and success is common in American culture, but it leads you to concentrate on the summit of what you want to achieve rather than the journey of what happens along the way.
Here are some other practical ways to choose happiness:
- Volunteer. Doing something for others takes the focus off of yourself and can make you feel good, according to 2020 research. Even if you can’t make a regular commitment to volunteer, think of small things you can do to help others, such as picking up groceries for someone not able to get them on their own.
- Exercise. Physical activity isn’t just helpful for your body â€” it’s also great for your mind, Zinn says. Movement helps to release the feel-good chemical dopamine. Current federal guidelines recommend 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week, which breaks down to 30 minutes, five days a week.
- Nutrition. A healthy diet can have a huge effect on your self-confidence, health, and subsequent happiness. If you’re wondering what type of foods to eat, a 2012 study found a plant-based diet can improve your mood. Moreover, the DASH diet and Mediterranean diet come highly recommended by nutritionists.
- Get out in nature. Nature helps you to feel humbled by what’s around you, reduces stress, and helps you feel more connected to the world, which can lead to higher life satisfaction Zinn says.
- Show gratitude and practice kindness. One way to do this, according to Zinn: Keep a kindness jar with a notepad and pen nearby. Everyone at home can write down kind acts they have done in a given week or that others have done for them. At the end of the week, you can choose what to do with the items in the jar, such as reading them aloud.
- Laugh. People who can find humour in even the darkest or craziest of circumstances are often able to boost their happiness.
- Tune in to meaning and spirituality.Mindfulness meditation, religion, believing in a higher power, or a connection to a higher consciousness may help give a greater feeling of purpose in life.
Although research suggests that happiness is inherited to some extent, you’re not limited by your DNA. The ability to feel happy takes practice and can be achieved with the right mindset.
Volunteering, exercise, nature, and attention to gratitude practices are just a few things you can do to increase your sense of life satisfaction, well-being, purpose, and ultimately, happiness.
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