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Scandinavian Happiness Linked to Gene Mutation, Study

Update Date: Jul 17, 2014 06:10 PM EDT

DNA might be responsible for Danish happiness, according to a new study.

After analyzing factors in certain countries that usually top the world happiness rankings, scientists found that the secret to lifelong bliss could be in our genes.

Investigators at the University of Warwick's Center for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE) found that the more similar a nation is to the genetic makeup of Denmark, the happier that country is.

Researchers said that latest findings could explain why countries like Denmark so win in world happiness rankings.

Researchers Dr Eugenio Proto and Professor Andrew Oswald used data from 131 countries from a number of international surveys including the Gallup World Poll, World Value Survey and the European Quality of Life Surveys.

After examining the cross-national data on genetic distance and well being, researchers found that populations with genes that are more similar to Danes were happier.

 "The results were surprising, we found that the greater a nation's genetic distance from Denmark, the lower the reported wellbeing of that nation. Our research adjusts for many other influences including Gross Domestic Product, culture, religion and the strength of the welfare state and geography," Proto said.

After analyzing the DNA, researchers found a link between mental wellbeing and a mutation of the gene that influences the reuptake of the neurotransmitter serotonin.

"We looked at existing research which suggested that the long and short variants of this gene are correlated with different probabilities of clinical depression, although this link is still highly debated. The short version has been associated with higher scores on neuroticism and lower life satisfaction. Intriguingly, among the 30 nations included in the study, it is Denmark and the Netherlands that appear to have the lowest percentage of people with this short version," added Proto.

Furthermore, researchers found that the findings held true after analyzing multiple generations and continents.

"We used data on the reported wellbeing of Americans and then looked at which part of the world their ancestors had come from. The evidence revealed that there is an unexplained positive correlation between the happiness today of some nations and the observed happiness of Americans whose ancestors came from these nations, even after controlling for personal income and religion," Oswald explained.

 "This study has used three kinds of evidence and, contrary to our own assumptions when we began the project, it seems there are reasons to believe that genetic patterns may help researchers to understand international well-being levels," he said.

"More research in this area is now needed and economists and social scientists may need to pay greater heed to the role of genetic variation across national populations," Oswald concluded.

The latest study "National Happiness and Genetic Distance: A Cautious Exploration,"  has not yet been published. 

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