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Study: The secret to Danish happiness is in the DNA

The further away from Denmark you are, the unhappier you will be – genetically, that is


A University of Warwick study offers an alternative explanation for Danish happiness (Photo: Colourbox)

July 18, 2014
12:56

by Lawrence Shanahan


It’s old news that Denmark is the happiest country in the world, consistently topping the UN World Happiness Report, but now we may have an explanation that doesn't involve Danes having low expectations. Apparently happiness is in their genes.

A recent study by a team of economists at the Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE) at the University of Warwick in the UK tries to explain why the same countries repeatedly top the world happiness rankings.

While many have cited political, social and economic factors as the underlying causes, this study suggests it’s actually in the DNA.  

READ MORE: Danes are the world's happiest ... seriously

“The results were surprising. We found that the greater a nation’s genetic distance from Denmark, the lower the reported well-being of that nation,” wrote CAGE economist Eugenio Proto in the study.

“Our research adjusts for many other influences including Gross Domestic Product, culture, religion and the strength of the welfare state and geography.”

READ MORE: Denmark: where happiness and trust go hand in hand

American study
To test this hypothesis, they measured the well-being of Americans and matched that against their ancestry.

“The evidence revealed 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,” explained Professor Andrew Oswald.

More serotonin, more happy
While the scientists have not established what it is specifically about Danish DNA that makes Danes so happy, they have found an interesting lead: differing levels of a serotonin transporter gene that is linked to the reabsorption of serotonin.

Serotonin is closely linked to human mood and happiness, and a deficiency can lead to mental illnesses such as depression.

“We looked at existing research that 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,” Proto explained.

“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.”



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