Your Genes May Determine How Happy Your Country Is

First Posted: Jan 14, 2016 04:49 PM EST

Why are some nations happier than others? It could all be in the genes. Scientists have found that genetic factors should be taken into account when judging national differences in happiness.

In this latest study, the researchers used data from three waves of the nationally representative World Values Survey (2000 to 2014). They calculated the average national percentages of respondents who unambiguously reported being "very happy." Their calculations also included population genetic data from an allele frequency database.

So what did they find? It turns out that there was a strong correlation between a nation's happiness and the presence of the A allele in the fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) gene variant rs324420 in its citizens' genetic makeup. This allele helps prevent the chemical degradation of anandamide, a substance that enhances sensory pleasure and helps to reduce pain.

In fact, nations with the highest prevalence of the A allele are clearly those who perceive themselves to be the happiest. These include Ghana and Nigeria in West Africa, and northern Latin American nations such as Mexico and Columbia.

"We cannot fail to notice the high occurrence of the A allele in equatorial and tropical environments in the Americas and Africa and the lower occurrence of that allele around the Mediterranean Sea than in Northern Europe," said Michale Minkov, one of the researchers, in a news release. "It seems that some equatorial and tropical environments select for a higher occurrence of the A allele as a counterbalance to environmental stressors."

The findings are published in the Journal of Happiness Studies.

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