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What makes people happy? discuss the relative contribution of genetic and environmental factors

In simple language, happiness has been defined as a state of mind characterized by varying type of emotions such as joy, cheerfulness, and contentment. Every individual wants to be happy, some of them see happiness in materialistic things like a car, mobile phone, big houses and so on while some seem to be happy with family and friends. For some, self-esteem is important, while for others, recognition and appreciation from society are a major source of happiness. However, what actually makes a person happy is a profound question to ask.

The present report attempts to examine various research studies conducted to identify what factors makes a person happy. The fundamental aim of this report is to develop an understanding of the genetic and environmental factors that govern happiness. With the view to gain deep insight into the subject, extensive study of books, journals, magazines, online articles and other research papers has been conducted.

The science of emotional and mental well-being has received a significant amount of attention from various psychological researchers and scholars. Abundant psychologists have conducted researches to examine what factors influence happiness. There are mainly two underlying factors that constitute happiness namely; exogenic (external) factors including life events, behavioural, economical, geographical and socio-cultural factors; and the second is endogenic (internal) factors that include biological, ethical and personality related features (Schnittker, 2008). These factors influence the emotional and mental well-being of an individual in some or other ways.

Among all these, significant indicators of happiness are biological subfactors and environmental factors. Some scholars believe that environmental factors such as education, income, the social standing of an individual have more control over happiness. While, some believe that biological factors such as genes have a major influence on well-being. However, few research studies found that no single factor affect well-being. Instead, there are a variety of factors that integrates to cause happiness (Bradburn, 1969). The subsequent paragraphs discuss a variety of genetic and environmental factors that contribute to making an individual happy.

Humans have inherited a number of habits and attributes, such as the capacity to adjust to different life situations, ability to notice trouble as well as tendency to remain calm and composed even in stressful matters. Every individual inherits a different kind of habits and characteristics from their parents and grandparents. For example, some people are of short temperament while others are able to cope stress calmly. Studies have shown that genes influence all such traits and human behavior. Additionally, happiness and sadness are also controlled by genes to some extent.

So now the important question is: Is it really possible that things like happiness and life satisfaction is governed by Genetics? A relevant Social Science Research conducted by Lyekkn and Tellegen (1996), found that happiness or individual’s well-being can be inherited; however linking that to a particular gene is difficult.

Happiness is not entirely in one’s control. Recent psychological examination suggested that biological factors play a big role in governing happiness; perhaps a half percentage of a person’s capacity for well-being is determined by genes. In certain brain study, results showed that an individual with a higher level of activity in the left prefrontal cortex is likely to be happier (The psychology of happiness, 2010).

Wide array of studies has been carried out to find what type of genes influence mental well-being. A new research performed by Jan Emmanuel De Neve and his colleagues at University College London focused on a gene named 5-HTTLPR, which is also called “Depression gene.” This study was able to examine the different role that genes and upbringing can have in influencing well-being and life satisfaction. De Neve and his colleagues found out that person with an extended form of “depression gene” seem to be more satisfied with the life although that also depend on actual life situation. In the same way, individual with short “depression gene” i.e. 5-HTTLPR is more vulnerable to sadness, particularly in a stressful situation. This research has depicted the high correlation between short and long forms of “depression gene” and state of mind such as depression and cheerfulness (Kenelly, 2012).

Among all genes affecting emotions and frame of mind, the impact of two essential genes seem to be more significant; which are 5-HTTPLR and MAO-A. Certain research has suggested a link between life satisfaction and 5-HTTLPR, as this particular gene regulate mood and emotions by coding serotonin distribution in cells.

There are two varied functional forms of 5-HTTLPR which are Short one denoted by S, and Long one denoted by L. Every individual possess two types of genes which are called as Allele, are inherited biologically. Some people possess one S and L while others have two S alleles. Individual possessing one L is 8 percent more satisfied with life than others. Those having two L have 17 percent more life satisfaction than people. MAO-A is another essential gene that is involved in governing happiness. Genotype with low MAO-A is more vulnerable to negative things such as criminal activities, alcohol, and drug addiction (Dfarhud, D. and et. al., 2014).

Another research was conducted by scholars from the University of Edinburgh to explore how genetic factors control human’s happiness and well-being. They study involved more than 800 pairs of the adult twin who were asked to measure an individual’s happiness based on six factors namely goal achievement, personal growth, self-acceptance, sense of control, positive relationships and feeling of autonomy. Participants were further asked to rate how strongly they agree or disagree with varying statements like “I like most aspects of my personality” and “I have confidence in my opinion, even when they are contrary to other. The findings of the study concluded that genetic factors play a significant role in governing happiness, different components of happiness influenced by various genetic factors. The study suggested that happiness is the sum of varying genetic factors (Kenelly, 2012). That means happiness cannot be defined by one personal attribute or a single gene, but actual psychological happiness constitutes several elements which are governed by varying aspects of biology.

In the recent years, a comprehensive investigation carried out with adult twins suggested that major part of happiness is influenced by genes or it can be rightly said that genetic factor constitutes 35 to 50 percent of individual’s well-being (Fox and et.al., 2009). However, the study also concluded that Happiness is not entirely dependent on genetic factors, and there is no particular gene for happiness. The study suggested that apart from genetic factors, mental well-being of an individual is highly influenced by environmental factors such as income, education, social rapport and many others. Below paragraphs outlines detailed examination of the contribution of such factors in making a person happy.

Apart from genes, happiness is thought to be influenced by social surroundings or the environment. The surrounding that a person is exposed to have a profound impact on the mental state. For example, placement of furniture, the color of walls, and fragrance in the air directly or indirectly affect on mood. There are many instances which prove that an individual feel better when his/her surroundings are sound and healthy (The psychology of happiness, 2010). For example, the environment in which an employee is expected to work influences their level of mental well-being to a great extent. A person feels happy when working conditions of the company he works in are proper as well as the relationship with employer and colleagues is sound. These factors highly influence individual’s happiness in the workplace. Surroundings in which individual spent his major part of the day is therefore an important factor in causing happiness. Home plays an essential role in influencing one’s behavior; it is the place where one can take a break from all kind of negativity and stay happy. In the same way, friends and family, the city or country one lives in, impacts our well-being in one way or another. These factors are discussed in detail in subsequent paragraphs.

There are wide array of resources that link individual’s well-being with the things valued by society such as assets, work, income, achievement, etc. Social science researchers have used a variety of models to explain this relationship, these models describe how social, environmental factors influences the psychological state of an individual; for example, earning influences happiness as it allows a person to fulfil his/her materialistic needs and thus satisfy his desire (Bradburn, 1969). Likewise, the social relationship also promotes happiness as it allows the pleasure of interaction with others and rewards associated with it. Social support leads to constructive interactions which in turn brings a sense of belongingness and security. Moreover, social support is said to influence happiness or mental stability through its balancing effects as it helps in reducing stress. For instance, support of friends and family members brings confidence and sense of security.

A person is motivated by a need for belongingness as well as interaction with other people, and once this requirement is fulfilled a person tends to be happy and satisfied. According to one study, the sadness of a person can be replaced with happiness through social interaction. The study also suggests that one who is having intense relationship cope better than others with stressful situations (Nes and et. al., 2006). Love is recurrently mentioned as key element of happiness. Generally, being loved can be considered as one of the primary determinants of happiness.

Other factor influencing happiness is a level of involvement or engagement. There is a strong relation between the level of engagement and long-term happiness. When a person does things or activities, he is good at such as dancing, painting, cooking or riding; he tends to experience flow or engagement with that activity which in turn leads to happiness. One can experience a high level of involvement when there is a proper match between personal strengths and the work nature of an individual.

Numerous resources prove the relationship between these features with happiness. Environmental factors such as schooling and educational qualifications, income, social relationships have a significant impact on happiness. Many sociologists have concluded that social standing of a person affects his/her psychological states. What rapport a person has in society and with other members influence his mental state. Sound interaction with other society members leads to spiritual peace which in turn brings happiness. While, on other hand, when a person is involved in any kind of fight with other society members or is boycotted by society due to some reasons, that person tends to be unhappy (The psychology of happiness, 2010).

Attributed to this, it can be said that as long as the social environment is stable, happiness can remain stable for long term. Social support influences happiness in various ways. It leads to constructive interactions among people which further bring a sense of belongingness and security. Moreover, support of friends and family members said to affect happiness through its balancing effects as it reduces the impact of depression and stress. Several studies have shown that a person tends to be happier in social gatherings and talking with others about negative feelings tends to mitigate impacts of stress. A person having many good friends' help him/her in a stressful situation are generally happier than a person who do not have good friends and like living in isolation. Sound relationship with other person fulfils two fundamental human needs; first is a desire for social interaction and the second is needed for personal growth and development. In addition to this, related sources of support like marriage also have a huge impact on happiness.

Another environmental factor that plays a crucial role in affecting happiness is occupational self-direction. It has been observed that an employee who is given responsibilities and some authority to make work-related decisions seems to be more content than an employee who is not considered competent to make their decisions. Many studies have shown that independent decision making, sense of judgment and work related responsibilities improve individual’s mental satisfaction and well-being. Research studies related to human resources have also stated that better performance at work leads to happiness, through recognition and appreciation (Hudson, 2013). A person seems to be happy when involved in productive or any meaningful activities. When an individual is able to accomplish certain challenge or task, he/she realizes a position of self-actualization which makes him/her happy with the achievement. As well, when a person is engaged in work that he likes, he tends to happier.

In the same way, schooling, educational qualification, and income govern individual’s mental well-being. Proper schooling and good educational qualification improve person’s skills and work efficiency, which further generate new growth opportunities. Similarly, income from occupation makes a person able to fulfil needs and achieve desired goals, which in turn stimulate happiness. An individual with relatively good income is able to meet his primary as well as other materialistic needs adequately, which further makes him satisfied and ultimately happy. However, some studies have indicated that having enough wealth does not considerably leads to happiness. For example, affluent or middle-class people who intend to increase their wealth are often stuck with activities that allow them to earn more and more money, because of which they do not get enough time for personal relationships and thus experience stress and sadness after a period of time. People with low income also seem to be unhappy as they are not able to meet their basic needs and other desires (Easterlin, 2001). Therefore, it can be concluded that income has also had an enormous impact on the happiness of an individual.

Some studies have pointed out that there is a strong genetic component to work experiences including work efficiency, performance, productivity as well as work-related interest (Hough and Oswald, 2000). Personality is considered to be one of the key genetic factors that influence mood state. Individual’s personality can also be considered as one of the underlying factors to cause happiness. Different personality models and theories have indicated that positive personal traits can profoundly contribute to making individual able to stay happy even in adverse situation. Habits and individual’s attitude towards negative and positive events result in social rejection and relationships. Some researchers have emphasized on socialization and impact of family on well-being. Parental influence and upbringing have a tremendous impact on socioeconomic behaviour; it shapes people’s perception of things and events that occur in life. There are several positive experiences and pleasurable activities that make individual to cheer these moments.

MacKerron and Mourato have discussed the link between natural environmental factors and mental well-being. The authors have mentioned three important reasons that explain how natural environment influence mood. Firstly, green natural beauty brings peace and positive vibes which in turn brings happiness whereas polluted environment leads to adverse effects on individual physical and mental health, for example, noise pollution can cause chronic hearing impairment, sleeping disorders and increased stress level. A person always feels happy, calm and composed in nature, no matter what issues is experiencing in daily life. Secondly, natural settings can influence happiness by encouraging a person to do activities that are physically and mentally useful such as social interaction in the form of a picnic, outings and trips, physical exercise, etc. Such activities make people happy and improve his/her mood. However, effects on the state of mind may differ from person to person. When a person wants to feel happy, the feelings they desire for depend on the things or activities they want to do. Thirdly, experiences of natural surroundings have a great impact on the nervous system, thus reducing stress level and bringing mental peace (MacKerron and Mourato, 2013). Thus, it can be said that natural environment also plays a crucial role in influencing individual’s behaviour and making him stress-free.

Thus, this report tries to investigates the role of genetic and environmental factors in determining the level of happiness experienced by an individual. It can be recapitulated that there is no single factor or key to achieving mental well-being or happiness. Genes, as well as environmental factors such as income, social support, rapport, and personality, contributes profoundly to causing mental stability.

Biological factors or genes play a significant role in causing happiness. Various studies have concluded that genes are one of the key factors that influence individual’s behaviour. However, what kind of genes influence mental well-being is a difficult question. Identifying a particular gene causing happiness is certainly a complex task, but several studies have been successful in finding a gene that affects individual’s mood and other emotions. Two main genes namely 5-HTTLPR and MAO-A are considered to be highly effective in causing happiness.

Besides these factors, Happiness constitutes a variety of ingredients of which one of the essential components is an inner peace that further leads to life satisfaction. However, it is also important to note that factors like social surroundings, relationship with friends and family are considered to be the fundamental factor that affects happiness. Social interactions and relationship are more impactful than other materialistic objects as they provide long term happiness. Good reputation with peers and colleagues have a positive effect on the satisfaction level of a person, with good rapport a person tends to feel belongingness to society in which they achieve recognition. As well, success and goal realization are also likely to make person satisfied with life and thus causes happiness.

Every person needs to have a higher purpose in life and strive hard to achieve that goal, and once this desired purpose is accomplished it will lead to contentment and happiness. The study revealed that money also has an enormous influence on the level of happiness. However, it is evident from different life experiences that money and other materialistic objects may provide you joy only for short period of time, but it is not enduring. Last but not the least, it is important to note that happiness is not something that can be purchased from any store; it is something that is caused by inner satisfaction and peace.

REFERENCES

  • Bradburn, N. M. 1969. The Structure of Psychological Well-being. Aldine.
  • Dfarhud, D. and et. al. 2014. Happiness and Health: The biological factors-systematic review article. Iran Journal of Public Health. 43(11). pp.1468-1477.
  • Easterlin, R. A. 2001. Income and Happiness: Towards a Unified Theory. Economic Journal. 111(473). pp.465-84.
  • Fox, E. and et. al. 2009. Looking on the bright side: baised attention and the human serotin transporter gene. [pdf]. Available through. [Accessed on 15th February 2016].
  • Hudson, P. 2013. How to make yourself happier: The effect our environment has on us. [Online]. Available through< http://elitedaily.com/life/how-to-make-yourself-happier-the-effect-our-environment-has-on-us/>. [Accessed on 15th February 2016].
  • Kennelly, S. 2012. The Genetics of Happiness. [Online]. Available through. [Accessed on 15th February 2016].
  • Lykken, D. T. and Tellegen, A. 1996. Happiness is Stochastic Phenomenon. American Psychological Society. 7(3).
  • MacKerron, G. and Mourato, S. 2013. Happiness is greater in natural environment. [pdf]. Available through< http://personal.lse.ac.uk/mackerro/happy_natural_envs.pdf>. [Accessed on 16th February 2016].
  • Nes, R. B. and et. al. 2006. Subjective Well-Being: Genetic and Environmental Contributions to Stability and Change. Psychological Medicine. 36. pp.1–10.
  • Schnittker, J. 2008. Happiness and Success: Genes, Families, and the Psychological Effects of Socioeconomic Position and Social Support. American Journal of Sociology. 114.
  • The psychology of happiness. 2010. [pdf]. Available through< https://faculty-gsb.stanford.edu/aaker/pages/documents/ThePsychologyofHappiness.pdf>. [Accessed on 16th February 2016].
  • Vitelli, R. 2013. Can happiness be genetic?. [Online]. Available through. [Accessed on 15th February 2016].

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