A Joyful Gene?

For the past few years, new research from several fields has begun to suggest that genetics plays an important role in the extent to which we are happy.

As a generally happy person (too happy – even when externally complaining I am internally thinking, “this sure feels good to complain”), this strikes me as good news.

It gives me hope that I have not simply taught my 3-year-old to revel in the joys of childhood. She is actually biologically designed to be the most enthusiastic participant in any group or any game, even among other happy kids.

At almost-30, I can assure her that the urge to nudge the person next to me on any given day and say, “isn’t this great!” doesn’t fade even when you add two kids and routinely subtract about 3 hours of necessary sleep.

For others in my life, those that are ritualistically dissatisfied, I imagine this news is, not surprisingly, depressing. These folks are bored, annoyed, or pissed off by nearly all circumstances of their lives, even great achievements because they are invariably linked to unexpected inconveniences.

This crowd faces a truly uphill battle to attain the ever-popular life goal of “happiness,” if much of their consistent malaise is not linked to the infamous personal storm cloud hovering overhead but rather to the crabby pants of a misunderstood Great-Aunt Fern.

More importantly, though, if “happiness” is a genetic gift that some of us revel in while running barefoot through the muddy paths of our giant gardens while others enjoy it sparingly through the gaps in the nature-nurture cocktail, is it still a valid life goal?

I’m guessing it’s not. What, then, do we hope for ourselves, and our children? Fulfillment, I suppose, which can happen whether you are happy in a conventional sense or not. I wonder.

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