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August 21, 2015
by Agnes Oh, PsyD, LMFT

Unveiling the Secret to Happiness : Nature or Nurture?

August 21, 2015 09:00 by Agnes Oh, PsyD, LMFT

The science of happiness has been increasingly gaining public attention in recent years as researchers are trying to delineate the specific determinants of individual sense of well-being or  life satisfaction.

What constitutes human happiness has long been considered to be subjective but recent studies are showing that it might not be entirely so.

Happiness Gene

According to experts, the level of happiness is found to be strongly influenced by the genes with which people were born (BBC News, 2008). A growing body of research is being conducted to study the influence of genetic variation on human happiness and is revealing that there may be a genetic component to being happy. In the past decade, several studies have estimated that anywhere between 30% to 80% of human happiness is governed by certain genes (Orwig et al., 2015).

More specifically, an Edinburgh University study of identical and non-identical twins has examined results from 900 pairs of twins in conjunction with researchers at the Institute for Medical Research in Queensland, Australia. Based on the comparison, it was concluded that different traits between the identical and fraternal twins are influenced up to 50% by genetic factors and may be attributable to what is known as happiness gene (BBC News, 2008).

Researchers are claiming that the difference is largely accounted for by genetic variation, notwithstanding the wide range of external factors which could influence each individual’s definition of happiness.

Nature or Nurture

In light of these research findings, it is debatable whether happiness is simply inherited at birth or attainable through certain set of activities engaged.  One can argue that happiness gene is the answer to the disparity among people in terms of their different degrees of perceived happiness.  Such reductionistic theory may deduct a simple conclusion that people are born to be happy and thus have no control over their individual sense of well-being.   

As suggested by other studies, however, this argument may not hold water in its entirety. It has been posited that human happiness can be equally achieved and enhanced by certain choices and lifestyles (Orwig et al., 2015).


Based on the empirical data aforementioned, it can be gathered that happiness gene does account for the significant part of human happiness. Nonetheless, it may not fully explain all the intricate exceptions of human variables which may counter the findings.

The only definitive take away from all these inconsistent results may be  that no one theory or research can inclusively or thoroughly explain the mystery of human make-up.

After all, humans are complex beings with infinite possibilities of evolving endlessly with all the knowns and unknowns of science.

Perhaps this savory acknowledgment alone could and should make each person uniquely content if not perpetually happy.


BBC NEWS. March 5, 2008. Health. Genes 'play key happiness role.' Retrieved from

Orwig, J. & Brodwin, E. The simplest way to get and stay happy, according to psychologists. July 24, 2015. Retrieved from

About the Author

Dr. Agnes Oh Dr. Agnes Oh, PsyD, LMFT

Dr. Agnes Oh is dually licensed as a clinical psychologist and a marriage and family therapist in the state of California, fully committed to helping each individual to maximize his/her intrinsic potential to heal, grow, and thrive.

Dr. Agnes Oh has a clinical practice in Glendale, CA

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