Most people assume our general level of happiness depends on events, from falling in love to buying new shoes to seeing our favourite team win. However, the latest developments in genome testing reveal our general level of happiness may be largely down to our genes.
A leading testing expert, Dr Avinash Hari Narayanan (MBChB), Clinical Lead at London Medical Laboratory, says: “Happiness is a fundamental goal for most people. We all tend to consciously or unconsciously engage in activities or actions designed to enhance our happiness. However, it is not only behavioural but deeply rooted in psychology and neuroscience.
“Of course, happiness can be both a temporary emotional state or a stable state. Temporary happiness can arise from different life events, from getting a new car or a pay rise to seeing your family or taking a seaside walk. However, a stable state of happiness greatly depends on our satisfaction with life. How satisfied or dissatisfied we feel is influenced to a surprising degree by our genetics. Scientists call this relatively stable state of being happy “eudaimonia”.
“Genetic factors can have a significant influence on our subjective well-being. New genetic tests, such as London Medical Laboratory’s new DNA Genotype profile test, now provide fascinating information about our ancestry and the likely impact of certain medications on us and reveal our predisposition to “eudaimonia”.
“They work by identifying differences in those genes responsible for parts of our actions and behaviour. For example, how well do our bodies process serotonin? Serotonin in your brain regulates your mood. It’s sometimes called your body’s natural “feel good” chemical. When serotonin is at normal levels, you feel better focused, more stable and happier, while lower levels are often seen in depression.
“Genetic testing can identify vital information about key genes such as Human Cannabinoid Receptor 1 (CNR1). As its name implies, the CNR1 receptor can be activated by cannabis, but it’s usually activated by cannabinoids generated naturally inside the body (known as endocannabinoids). CNR1 is believed to be linked to how we process rewards, such as seeing a smiling face. That’s because it’s thought to play a role in releasing dopamine – another feel-good brain chemical. Dopamine plays a significant role in the brain’s reward system, helping to reinforce certain behaviours.
“Some variations of the CNR1 gene are now known to be particularly associated with positive emotional processing. These variations are linked to two of the five basic DNA building blocks, “thymine” and “cytosine”.
“Recent research published by the Public Library of Science has concluded there are marked differences in the subjective happiness level between “cytosine allele” (CA) carriers and “thymine-thymine” (TT) carriers of the CNR1 gene. Compared to TT carriers, CA carriers have a higher subjective happiness level. Their positive mood after watching a positive film was significantly higher.
“The CA carriers of the CNR1 gene generally exhibited greater positive emotions when they experienced positive events and had a higher subjective happiness level. Moreover, during the research, cutting-edge “positron emission tomography” was also used on 20 healthy participants to compare the brain responses to positive emotional stimuli of CA carriers to that of TT carriers. Positive emotion-related brain regions (such as the medial prefrontal cortex) were significantly activated when the CA carriers watched the positive film compared to the TT carriers
“It’s not only variations in our CNR1 gene linked to a tendency towards happiness. London Medical Laboratory’s genome test also looks at two other genes believed to play a strong role in cognition and mood: “Near HTR2A” (again linked to serotonin production) and “COMPT” (which plays a further role in dopamine production).
“One of the key takeaways is that genome testing not only highlights a predisposition to certain diseases or behaviours, but it can also help people overcome health and mental issues. Recently, scientists have shown that dopamine can help with unlearning fearful associations.
“In a 2018 study published in “Nature“, researchers uncovered the role of dopamine in lessening fearful reactions over time, an important therapy component for people with anxiety disorders, such as phobias or post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD).
“Of course, genetics does not entirely determine how predisposed we are to happiness. Environmental factors, such as family, social and cultural influences, and psychosocial factors, including personality traits, cognition and emotional state, also play key roles. These factors interact with genetics to shape an individual’s behaviour and attitudes. Genetics is only one piece of the puzzle, yet an important one.
“London Medical Laboratory’s new DNA Genotype Profile Test is a simple, at-home saliva test kit. This once-in-a-lifetime test gives over 300 reports, providing insights into nutrition, traits, fitness and health from our genetic blueprint. A single saliva sample lets us know more about ourselves to make better decisions for a healthier future.
“The saliva test can be taken at home through the post or at one of the many drop-in clinics that offer these tests across London and nationwide in over 95 selected pharmacies and health stores.”