The Jury are Divided: Is Wellbeing Inherited?
Imagine this, it’s a usual Monday morning and you have woken up a few minutes late. So you run and rush out the door without having your breakfast off to work, you just can’t miss the meeting. It’s raining heavily outside and you slip and fall on the edge of the road. You’re hurt. The work isn’t important, you need to go to the hospital because you know you need stitches.
Now think about this, it’s been almost about a week since you and your partner got divorced, you’re not coping well. You’re hardly sleeping well or waking up in the morning. Having nobody to come home to, gathering the energy to go to work is a terrible task. You’re hurt. But you work anyway. Every day, all week. The work is important and you have to go because sadness is no reason to rest. This is where we are disappointingly biased when it comes to caring. What we cannot see, doesn’t exist for us.
Studies on mental well-being have shown numerous health benefits including greater productivity, less stress and anxiety, mood elevation and a lot more. Similarly, lack of emotional wellbeing can have negative effects on the mind and body. Although there are many factors influencing well-being like sleep, diet or exercise, there is this one factor that has been a topic of debate among researchers - The role of heritability in Well-being. Tremendous research has been done on human well-being but very little is known about hereditary influences on well-being. Only a few studies have shown genetic factors among various other contributions on the influence of well-being. However, the findings were vastly divergent which makes it difficult to come to a definite conclusion and heritability influences were very little in proportion among the rest of the factors. So that raises the question, are we born to be happy? Are we born to be sad? Is well-being a genetic thing? Is happiness heritable?
Human well-being highly depends upon life satisfaction. Personality traits play a major role in enhancing life satisfaction. There are genetic influences on both the personality traits and the life satisfaction of an individual. What the researchers are still trying to figure out is, which particular genetic factors contribute to a person’s well-being. Is it solely personality traits or are there any other factors apart from environmental and personality ones? The answers to these questions would not just help us have a deeper understanding of human well-being and the huge spectrum of factors influencing it, but it would also help researchers to come up with better ways to enhance subjective well-being by tracking down the specific genetics that plays a role in improving or harming an individual’s well-being. It can help us model a successful intervention to improve and nourish subjective well-being. Subjective well-being can be enhanced by an increase in positive reinforcement, a decrease in negative events and overall life satisfaction. To heal from every negative event, we need about five more positive events. That’s how powerful the impact of negativity can be sometimes. Let’s take, for example, you’re working on an assignment that turns out to be excellent and you score well on it. Your feelings of joy and accomplishment boost up, but you’re back to baseline in a day or a half. The next time you submit a work for which you don’t get as much recognition and success, now you’re feeling disappointed and have all sorts of negative emotions. This time you don’t seem to get back to feeling normal in a day or half. The sadness can last for days. Negativity can be so intense till the point that even after another assignment of yours turns out well and good, you don’t feel the happiness to the same level as before because you might still be dwelling on negative thoughts about the one time you did not succeed. Our negative or positive experiences depend on how we perceive them, what we think is how we feel, we all have different coping strategies that are influenced by different personality traits.
The major reason for such huge interest in well-being is its psychological and physical health benefits along with improvements in social and professional life. Although there is significant evidence on the influence of genes across various studies, with one research suggesting an average heritability of 0.40 for well-being, another finding claims the influence of genetics to be around 0.30 to 0.50, while some findings range from 0 to 0.38. And because of such random fluctuations in the findings from different researches, determining the size of genetic influence on well-being requires further information and knowledge. Noteworthy, the genetic variants involved in the enhancement of well-being are the same variants helping cope with negative emotions such as stress or depression. And the personality traits of extraversion that helped improve well-being by developed social skills or the personality traits of neuroticism that restricted social life also had the same genetic variants found to be contributing to an individual’s well-being. Personalities are moulded by various genetic and environmental factors, a match of both these influences plays a role in subjective well-being.
Also, the existence of genetic factors influencing wellbeing is pretty evident, individuals with specific genetic dispositions are better able to cope with negativity and distressing experiences and also have a positive view of the world which contributes to their overall satisfaction in life. If well-being is inheritable, we need to further study if personality is the only genetic factor associated with well-being, or are there other variants.
If not genetics or heredity, families do play a major role when it comes to our well-being. It’s the people we surround ourselves with all day, all our lives. It’s the people who raise us and give us values. The role of families in generating a good life is a huge one. We replicate what we see, and we learn from the people around us. Throughout your life, what do you believe to be the influences of your family in your Well-being?