Climatic Differences and The Happiness Gene?

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March 14, 2017 – MCAT CARS Passage

Question: What is your summary of the author’s main ideas. Post your own answer in the comments before reading those made by others.

The citizens of nations which rate themselves happiest display a specific genetic feature: their DNA is more likely to contain a specific allele involved in sensory pleasure and pain reduction, say Michael Minkov of the Varna University of Management (formerly International University College) in Bulgaria, and Michael Bond of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. They weighed up genetic and various external factors to might contribute to national differences in happiness. The findings are published in Springer’s Journal of Happiness Studies.

Minkov and Bond used data from three waves of the nationally representative World Values Survey (2000 — 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 maintained by population geneticist Kenneth K. Kidd of Yale University as well as climatic information about the harshness of summers and winters, the historic prevalence of pathogens and World Bank economic data, since national differences in subjective well-being are thought to depend on socioeconomic and climatic factors in addition to genetic factors. The authors found 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 make-up. This allele helps prevent the chemical degradation of anandamide, a substance that enhances sensory pleasure and helps to reduce pain.

Nations with the highest prevalence of the A allele are quite clearly also those who perceive themselves happiest. These include Ghana and Nigeria in West Africa, and northern Latin American nations, such as Mexico and Colombia, whose citizens are of Amerindian or mixed Euro-American descent. The Arab nations of Iraq and Jordan, and the East Asian nations of Hong Kong, China, Thailand and Taiwan, which had the lowest prevalence of this allele, were also found to be the least likely to rate themselves as “very happy.” Genetics also suggests explanations for differences in happiness between European nations. Northern Europeans such as Swedes were found to have a much higher prevalence of the A allele — and more often rate themselves as being very happy — than their cousins from Central or Southern Europe.

The authors recognise that genetics is not the only determinant happiness. They argue that the economic and political difficulties continuously experienced by East European nations contribute to the very low happiness scores of Russians and Estonians. This is despite the fairly high prevalence of the A allele in the genes of these Northeast European nations.

Economic wealth, the type of law governing a nation or disease patterns did not significantly influence national differences in happiness. However, politics and economics did cause fluctuations in happiness levels in certain countries during the time this study was conducted. The authors suggest that, for instance, the percentage of very happy people in Rwanda rose dramatically recently because the effect of the 1994 genocide is wearing off. Inversely, it fell among Egyptians, most likely because of the political and economic turmoil in this North African country.

Climatic differences were also found to be significantly associated with national differences in happiness.

“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,” says Minkov. “It seems that some equatorial and tropical environments select for a higher occurrence of the A allele as a counterbalance to environmental stressors.”

The results may sound somewhat disturbing for nations that are not endowed with beneficial genes and climatic factors. The researchers reiterate that they studied only national differences in relation to one another and not absolute measures. “In other words, we have not shown that a nation’s genetic and climatic heritage doom a particular country to a specific happiness score, but that it can still rise and fall because of situational factors,” explains Bond.

Adapted from sciencedaily.

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This was an article on Population Health.

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Jack Westin
MCAT CARS Instructor.
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34 Comments


  1. MIP: happiness=genetic diff+other external factors.

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  2. Economic, political, and climate factors correlated to A alleles (happy gene)

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  3. Happiness= genetic+ economic, political, and climatic

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  4. MIP: Allele A = 🙂 fluctuates = varies econ/poli/situational factors

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  5. happy = genetics, climate affects happy

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  6. happiness linked to gene A and climate. But political and economics did play a huge effect. only politics caused fluctuation.

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  7. gene A = happy ppl + CW not absolute + situational factors

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  8. A allele = happiness but counterbalanced by exterior factors (climate, economics, etc)

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  9. Happiness can be determined by genetic make-up – High/low prevalence of allele that codes for enzyme FAAH correlates with happiness/unhappiness – Happiness is also influenced by environment (supported) – Economic wealth has no influence but political and economic climates do – Geographical climate influences (high prevalence at equator and tropics) – Genetics and geographical location does not dictate happiness phenotype as it is still amenable to situational factors

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  10. High A allele = increased happiness + economic + political + climatic difficulties = causes changes.

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  11. MI: Countries with High Happiness = High A Allele Freq, also affected by environmental stressors

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  12. Happiness = allele A + environmental factors

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  13. A allele + economic/political/climate= affects :)’ness

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  14. The presence of an A allele in combination with economic situation and climate of the nation are determining factors to the overall happiness of a nation. Although this doesn’t sentence a nation to being eternally unhappy because of the lack of such factors as the study was not done in relation to certain countries & environments.

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  15. Presence of the A allele in the genetic make-up of certain country populations correlates with level of happiness although other factors such as politics and the economy affect this somewhat as well.

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  16. Correlation between A Allele and happiness of population in country. Not always the case: consider economic and political factors as well as conflict.

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  17. A allele = happiness, climate + SE status + economic + politics can also impact happiness, happiness =/= solely genetic

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  18. Differences in happiness correlate with the presence of A allele (genetic) + economic & political difficulties + climatic differences

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  19. MIP: correlation with A and happiness but not absolute
    tone: neut

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  20. happiness = genetics + SES + environment

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  21. (1) Happiness = genetic
    (2) Econ. + politics = affect happiness
    (3) Climate = affect happiness

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  22. MI: happy ppl = specific genes
    MI 2: economy and politics affect happiness
    MI 3: climate affects happiness

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  23. Nation’s happiness = genetic factor (allele A) + politics/economics + climate.

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  24. genetics + economic/politics + climate = influence reports of happiness; author neutral

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  25. Genes = happiness + other factors that affect the perception of happiness
    Other factors = climate + politics + Econ

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  26. Nations’ happiness dependent on A allele
    Political + economic may or may not affect happiness
    Climate affects A allele prevelance which affects happiness

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  27. MIP: Happiness = + correlation to A allele; climate difff = happiness
    Tone: Neutral

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  28. Happiness = genetic; climate ~ happiness

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  29. High A allele in FAAH gene = happiness. Climates ~happy genes. Political and economics also fluctuates happiness in situational contexts

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  30. MIP: happiness impacted by genetics, economics/politics, climate

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  31. climatic factors, or e+p, or genetic factors affect Happiness across nations.

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  32. MIP: A allele = happiness + environmental/external factors play a role; tone = neutral

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