They say money can't buy happiness. Can genetics?

Some people seem to be happy no matter what. If you visit many places in Africa, even when the existence may seem hard to Europeans or Americans, a lot of people are quite happy.

The key could be genetics say....economists.

Why not economists? We let sociologists and anthropologists make all kinds of claims and they don't understand statistics anywhere near as well as the economists from the University of Warwick Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy.

The scholars wanted to find out why certain countries top the world happiness rankings. They determined that the closer a nation is to the genetic makeup of Denmark, the happier that country is. A claim like that is bold and they used the starting point that Denmark regularly tops the world happiness rankings and worked backward from their. Data, meet the cultural topology we want to create.  



Danes were even happy about this year's World Cup, though they weren't in it. According to a new analysis, Germans were happy because of Danish genes and would be whether they won or lost. Who knew Germans were so happy? Image: Deep Sangani, Wofford College

Dr. Eugenio Proto and Professor Andrew Oswald found three ways to link genetic makeup and national happiness.

Firstly they used data on 131 countries from a number of international surveys including the Gallup World Poll, World Value Survey and the European Quality of Life Surveys. The researchers linked cross-national data on genetic distance and well-being. Proto said, "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."


How could that be a surprise, since they knew Denmark was the happiest country and created a methodology comparing other countries to it? 'Surprising' is always in the top five science article clichés for a reason. 

Their second way to prove the conjecture was by finding existing papers suggesting an association between mental wellbeing and a mutation of the gene that influences the reuptake of serotonin, which is believed to be linked to human mood. 

Proto says, "We looked at existing research which suggested that the long and short variants of this gene are correlated with different probabilities of clinical depression. 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."

The final link was showing it to be valid across generations, continents and the Atlantic Ocean. Oswald said, "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."


Yes, if anyone in your family came from Denmark, they believe you are genetically happier, even if you are poor.