Money may not buy you happiness, but according to new research, genetics might be able to … if you’re a woman. A new study has isolated a gene that researchers believe is related to happiness in women. Unfortunately for the other half of the population, this doesn’t hold for men.
Researchers from the University of South Florida, Columbia University and the National Institutes of Health found that a type of the monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) gene was connected to higher levels of self-reported happiness in women. The study, published this month in the journal Neuro-Psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry, looked at the DNA of 193 women and 152 men, reported Fox News. Researchers then compared these results to the participants’ levels of self-reported happiness, controlling for factors such as age, gender, race, income, marital status, self-esteem and physical health. Women with at least one copy of the low-expression version of the MAOA gene reported significantly higher levels of happiness than women without the gene as well as men both with and without the gene.
Hamian Chen, an associate professor at the USF College of Public Health and the study’s lead author, expressed surprise at the results in a press release. Happiness isn’t the only attribute that the MAOA gene has been linked to. “I was surprised … because low expression of MAOA has been related to some negative outcomes like alcoholism, aggressiveness and antisocial behavior. It's even called the warrior gene by some scientists, but, at least for women, our study points to a brighter side of this gene."
Chen and his research team said they believe that the reason for this connection is that the MAOA gene allows larger amounts of dopamine, serotonin and other mood-elevating neurotransmitters to stay in the brain. (These are the same neurotransmitters that are released during orgasm, and really, who doesn’t have their mood lifted during the big O?)
The scientists said they hope that this study will shed light on gender differences in happiness. Although women experience mood and anxiety disorders more frequently than men do, according to the study press release, women’s self-reported happiness tends to be higher than men’s across the board.
Previous research on happiness has found mixed results when it comes to gender. A 2007 feature in the New York Times reported “a growing happiness gap between men and women” -- with men coming out on top.
What remains unclear is why men with the same type of MAOA gene don’t experience the same increased self-reported happiness that women do. Chen surmised that testosterone could be to blame. However, he also stressed that more research needs to be done on the topic. After all, social factors could also be in play. Genetics are only part of the happiness picture.