Denmark usually comes top of the list of the world’s happiest nations. But this could have nothing to do with the country’s high standard of living and generous welfare system.
Rather, it could simply be in their genes, according to British researchers.
They believe that a mutation of a gene linked to the suppression of serotonin levels – commonly believed to be responsible for happiness – is rare among people of Danish heritage.
“The further you are genetically from Denmark the lower is the life satisfaction or subjective well-being of the country. The further you are from Denmark the sadder you are,” concluded Dr Eugenio Proto, associate professor of economics at Warwick University
The researchers at Warwick University say they adjusted for other influences such as a nation’s gross domestic product, as well as its culture, religion and welfare state – regarded as particularly generous in Denmark.
“We’ve tried to statistically take away the effect of wealth, the effect of the welfare state, the effect of the culture. We tried to do our best, and even taking away this effect, we still have a big chunk of this variance of happiness between countries that is explained by genetics,” explained Dr Proto.
University of Copenhagen genomics professor Tom Gilbert said he finds the study fascinating but warned that the age of genetic determinism is still in its infancy.
“The major problem here – and they do acknowledge this – is that whether that gene actually is linked to happiness or depression is controversial and this is a fundamental problem of many genetics and genomics studies today,” he said.
While research is obviously ongoing, the team used further data and found an unexplained positive correlation between the level of happiness of some nations and the happiness of Americans whose ancestors came from those nations.