Study finds key to happiness is more in our choices than our genes

Our choice of partner greatly affects our happinessHow much do genes affect our happiness? Are sad people doomed to be gloomy forever? New research says important life choices, the goals we make, and the partner we choose, greatly affect our happiness and satisfaction in life. The results overturn the popular theory that personality traits, moulded early in life, and genes largely decide our level of happiness.

Over 40% of people had large changes in their level of happiness over the course of their life, said study leader Associate Professor Bruce Headey from the Melbourne Institute at Melbourne University.

Headey and colleagues followed 60,000 Germans for up to 25 years in the first study to track happiness over a long period.

Happiness was shown to vary over the long-term. It largely depended on the life goals and choices each of us make.

So how much do our choices in life affect our happiness? Headey said:

“The key things that we found are that the choice things make a big difference. For 20 or 30 years the general view has been that heredity was all important in happiness and that…trying to be happy was about as silly as trying to be taller. That kind of result came from twin studies.

What we’ve shown is that your choice of partner, and your choice of…life goals, and even whether you can…work the hours you want, more or less, all can make quite a big difference to your happiness.

…We’ve tried to take account of all the genetic factors and then shown that these choices make a difference to life satisfaction over and above the genetic factors.”

The study’s participants were asked what was important to them in life. According to Headey:

“Most people put family things first. The people who put career, success and money things first were actually a bit less happy than average, and the people who gave high priority to friendships and social involvements…participating in things, and even being altruistic, they were the happiest people.”

The Sydney Morning Herald lists a Recipe for Contentment. It’s a good summary of the study’s key findings for leading a happy life:

Have a happy partner
Don’t be overworked or underworked
Prioritise family and community, and have a partner who does so as well
Don’t be materialistic
Don’t be obese

To read more about this study, visit The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The University of Melbourne.

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