Possible Link Between Danish Happiness and DNA

Possible Link Between Danish Happiness and DNA

A new study suggests a potential link between Denmark's genetic makeup and life satisfaction

Janet Burns
  • 23 july 2014

While money might not buy happiness, DNA might just predict it. According to a new study, a tentative correlation exists between the genetic makeup of Denmark and overall satisfaction in life.

Curious why certain countries always top global surveys on life satisfaction, economists at the University of Warwick have found that the closer a nation is to the genetic makeup of Denmark — always among the happiest nations statistically — the higher that country’s level of happiness is. The study, presented as a “working paper” with speculative, “exploratory” results, was conducted by Dr. Eugenio Proto and Professor Andrew Oswald at the Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy, cites three major areas of evidence.

Firstly, the researchers used the results of international polls to link cross-national data on genetic distance and well-being from 131 countries. “The results were surprising,” Dr. Proto says in a July 17th announce , adding, “[W]e found that the greater a nation’s genetic distance from Denmark, the lower the reported well-being of that nation.” Taking other life factors into account, the research attempt to adjust for “many other influences, including Gross Domestic Product, culture, religion and the strength of the welfare state and geography.” As per below, Danes recently ranked among the most satisfied, but also financially productive, of world citizens.

Gallup Pool 2006

Secondly, the researchers examined existing data relating to the theory that genetic variations in serotonin transporter genes affect mood. Though still widely debated, the theory suggests that persons with short serotonin transporters are more prone to depression and other mood disorders than those with long ones. “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,” Dr. Proto noted.

Lastly, the team sought to determine if the link between genetics and happiness held true across generations as well as crossed borders due to emigration. Professor Oswald explained,

We used data on the reported well-being 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.

Happy Royal family in Denmark.

He adds that, contrary to the team’s own expectations at the project’s onset, “it seems there are reasons to believe that genetic patterns may help researchers to understand international well-being levels.”

The economists are intrigued by their findings but strongly emphasize that their results should be “treated cautiously;” and they also hope that other economists and social scientists alike will pursue more research in this area. The economists say that they “pay greater heed to the role of genetic variation across national populations.”

Images: Gallup World Poll,


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