What Makes People Happy? Discuss the Relative Contributions of Genetical and Environmental Factors

Positive Psychology's Essay

There is an important goal that every person would like to achieve in their life called "Happiness." Happiness is an attitudinal state in which people feel peaceable with their life and have satisfaction in different domains such as work, kinship, friendship, etc. It is related to positive and negative emotions. Usually, people with emotions like joy or satisfaction are happy; while people who have negative emotions like anxiety or shame are unhappy (Carr, Alan 2011). Margaret Runbeck says “Happiness is not a state to arrive at, but a manner of traveling.” This means that every person should be happy for their entire life and should not have to spend fragments of their life to achieve happiness. It is necessary to be happy all the time to have a fulfilling/good life. In this essay, I will explain the factor that affects happiness; in particular, genetic and environmental happiness.

There are two principal approaches to define happiness and well-being: the hedonic and eudaimonic approaches (Ryan, Deci, 2001). The Hedonic view started with a Greek philosopher named Aristippus in the fourth century B.C. He thought that the goal of life is to experience the maximum amount of enjoyment and that the totality of one’s hedonic moments is happiness. While, some years later, Hobbes thought that happiness lies within the pursuit of human desires (Kubovy,1999). Many other psychologists studied hedonism and it has been interpreted in many ways. The psychologist’s hedonic view concentrates on an idea of hedonism that includes the preferences and pleasures of the body and mind. One of the psychologist named Kahneman states that the terms "well-being" and "hedonism" are equivalent (Kahneman, 1999). There are many ways to evaluate pleasure and pain in human experience. Most researches have used assessment of subjective well-being for this study which consist of three components: life satisfaction, the presence of positive mood and the absence of negative mood.

The eudaimonic view was derived from Aristotle who interpreted hedonic happiness as a vulgar idea which turns humans into slaves who chase their desires. Aristotle also said that the true happiness is found in the expression of virtue (Waterman, Alan, S. 1993). Eudaimonic theories maintain that there are exceptions to the desires that will result in well-being when fulfilled. From the eudaimonic perspective, subjective happiness cannot be compared with well-being. Waterman suggested that eudaimonia occurs when people’s life activities are most congruent or when their life compliments their deeply held values (Waterman 1993). Furthermore, people would feel alive and authentic when their life activities are holistically or fully engaged. Well-being is probably best conceived as a multidimensional phenomenon that includes aspects of both the hedonic and eudaimonic conceptions.

Two important causes of happiness are the environment and genetic of the person as mentioned at the end of the first paragraph. There are studies that demonstrated the heritability of happiness in the range of 40 percent-50 percent, the remaining are environmental (Bartels, Boomsma, 2009). Moreover, there have been many studies on twins. For the purpose of understanding them, the researchers created a moderator model constituted into various components: (A) addictive genetic influences, (D) non-addictive genetic influences, (C) shared environmental influences and (E) non-shared environmental influences (Hahn, Johnson, Spinath, 2013). A trait could be inherited from the influences of A and D. Moreover, the majority of these studies depend on the Classical Twin Design (CTD) which is based on the comparison in monozygotic and dizygotic twins. These studies have also shown that the influences of D were not very relevant, while A’s influences were of primary importance. Genetic effects on a personality traits showed effects on subjective well-being; approving the idea that personality traits influence happiness. Hahn, Johnson and Spinath (2013) researched using a genetically sensitive multi-group design (GSMGD) expecting A,D,C, and E to have an influence on life satisfaction and influence on the relations between life satisfaction and personality at the same time. The GSMGD provided a solution for the limitations of the CTD, including the common use of twin samples that can estimate only the influence of C or D instead of both. Genetics has an influence in (30/37 percent), both additive (14/17) and non-additive (16-20 percent) in life satisfaction. Previous studies reported to a higher genetic influences, ranging from 38 percent and 47 percent, but those studies applied models approximating only C or D influences. The analysis also showed that the influences of A and D explained variance in life satisfaction to a similar degree. Genetic influences are extremely complex and do not work in simple additive manner. Siblings or children and parents shared greater additive than non-additive genetic influences. They could not conclude that satisfied and happy parents were more likely to have satisfied and happy children because of their shared genes if substantial non-additive genetic effects are involved. Regarding non-additive genetic effects, association analysis is utilized to identify the reason behind the interactions among genes. Furthermore, they have found a connection for genomic regions on chromosome 1 and 19 for happiness.

There are many factors which can influence the state of happiness on people (Carr, Alan, 1957); culture is one of them. It has an important role in happiness, social equality, efficiency of public institution and the welfare state; all of these roles influence overall wellness.

Wealth is another point that needs to be cited. Many researches have been done to gain a better insight about how money influences people. Usually, rich people live longer, have less stress, are healthier, and have less risk to withdraw from school or commit crimes. They have a simpler life compared to poor people because poor people cannot always afford to buy healthy food, medicines, or also satisfy some desires like going out with friends. All of these factors could lead to negative emotions like sadness or even depression. Despite this, in some poor countries, people have a quite good level of happiness because they do not seek materialistic satisfaction but aspire to other useful ambitions.

It has been proven that religion and spirituality have moderate influence towards cheerfulness. This is because people find meaning and hope in life due to the beliefs stated by their religion, and also being part of a community helps them to feel that they are a part of something.

There are some life events that can have an impact on the well-being of a person. Usually, people adapt to changes, but distressing episodes such as divorce or the death of a spouse can affect the life of a person.

There are researches that show that marriage has a close relation with happiness. The research attest that married people are happier than unmarried people, that marriage can result in immediate happiness, but it decreases after around five years. Furthermore, people are overwhelmed by the feeling of sadness after the divorce until they find another partner who can accommodate their emotional, physical and spiritual needs. As a result, we can conclude that an intimate relationship between two people usually lead to well-being.

Another important thing related to happiness is social relationships, in particular kinship and friendship. Having social support from other people leads to a physical and psychological well-being. People can help to solve and regulate the negative effect of problems, and they can give hope and ensure availability for future difficulties. It is extremely important to improve well-being through some strategies such as being accompanied by family or close friends. If accompany is not possible, staying in touch with them using technology also accommodates for their physical unavailability. The increase of social support improves reaction to stress and immune-system which ultimately results in improved overall wellness.

Education is correlated with happiness, especially in poor countries where children or teenagers cannot go to school. If children are educated privately, they can feel inferior because they will miss out on the joyful experiences of meeting their friends and expanding their knowledge about this world; this can potentially lead to negative feelings like sadness or anger. This issue is very relevant to school satisfaction where students with low gratification usually falls victim to anxiety, depression, mental health problems, drug misuse and interpersonal difficulties; on the other hand, students with high gratification have hope, intrinsic motivation, social competence and engage in more extracurricular activities. Teaching style of the teachers also influences school satisfaction because it can potentially support students to achieve their goals.

Some researchers have found that unemployment affects happiness; happiness at work is influenced by satisfaction, security and decision making ability in the work environment.

In conclusion, a short-term happiness is caused by leisure activities which is evident during holidays where we experience the happiness level increase. After this consideration, we can say that there are many ways to improve our happiness and have a better life. Happiness leads to better physical and mental health. Therefore, it is extremely important that we use some strategies that we discovered through this research to live a good life. Another positive thing is that, happiness is infectious. Therefore, if you are happy, it can spread to other people around you and everyone can enjoy a good time with you. So, it is important that we try to do the right thing for us and for the people around us.


Bartels M, Boomsma DI. Born to be happy? The etiology of subjective well-being. Behav Genet. 2009;39(6):605–615.

Carr, Alan, Dr. Hove, Positive psychology: the science of happiness and human strengths. Brunner-Routledge, 2011

Hahn E, Johnson W, Spinath FM. Beyond the heritability of life satisfaction—the roles of personality and twin-specific influences. J Res Pers. 2013;47:757–767

M. Ryan and Edward L. Deci, 2001 On happiness and human potentials: a review of research on Hedonic and Eudaimonic well-being. Richard

Kahneman D. 1999. Objective happiness. See Kahneman et al 1999, pp. 3–25

Kubovy M. 1999. On the pleasures of the mind. See Kahneman et al 1999, pp. 134–54

Waterman, Alan S. Two conceptions of happiness: Contrasts of personal expressiveness (eudaimonia) and hedonic enjoyment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 64(4), Apr 1993, 678-691

Waterman AS. 1993. Two conceptions of happiness: contrasts of personal expressiveness (eudaimonia) and hedonic enjoyment. J.Pers. Soc. Psychol. 64:678–91

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Chiara Marullo
Chiara Marullo

I am a psychology's student, Italian but currently living in London. I love psychology with all my heart, love travelling and enjoying the city with my friends. I would like to put here my essays also to have an opinion from you. 

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What Makes People Happy? Discuss the Relative Contributions of Genetical and Environmental Factors
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