Jolly Genes — Why It Matters
Research suggests genetic factors account for around 40 to 50 percent of those joyful feelings . Based on studies of twins and siblings, researchers believe certain personality traits, like being sociable, optimistic, and hardworking, are especially heritable. (Slackin’ at work? Blame it on the genes.) And differences in these qualities are closely related to variations in happiness levels   .
Brain structure also plays a role in the happiness equation. The brain has billions of neurons, or brain cells, and neurotransmitters, or chemical messengers that communicate between brain cells. Certain neurotransmitters regulate emotions, and deficiencies in neurotransmitter levels can bring on the blues. (Try, “It’s not me, it’s my serotonin levels” as a new reason for breaking up.) Genetic factors partially determine the amount of neurotransmitters in the brain, meaning some people are predisposed to psychological issues like depression. But biology’s only part of the story.
If You’re Happy and You Know It — The Answer/Debate
Take a tip from the Dalai Lama— joy and unhappiness aren’t predestined fates. Research suggests happiness is a result of the interaction between genetics and environmental factors like income and personal relationships. Some psychologists think kids’ emotional health depends heavily on what kind of family they grow up in . (No, that is not an excuse to fault the ’rents for making us worrywarts or commitment-phobes.)
But it’s difficult to predict what exactly makes people smile— despite what McDonalds says— because the definition of happiness varies significantly among people  . Some research suggests Eastern cultures associate happiness with fitting in, whereas Western cultures focus on celebrating individual success . And, according to other studies, some cultures even view positive expression as inappropriate .
Whether in South Carolina or South Korea, the good news is it’s possible to increase happiness in daily life. A jog on the treadmill can boost mood, and healthy eating can improve happiness levels . (A jar of frosting, unfortunately, can’t.) Positive relationships are also important, so beat the blues by phoning a friend or talking it out with a trusted pal . Or at least learn from Bobby McFerrin: Ain’t got no cash, ain’t got no style, don't worry, be happy.
How do you get a quick mood boost? Tell us in the comments below!
Genetics influence happiness levels, but environmental factors like positive relationships and a healthy lifestyle can make a difference in how much we smile.