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     Volume 10 |Issue 41 | October 28, 2011 |


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Happiness Inherited

Aasha Mehreen Amin

We all learnt in biology that we inherit all sorts of traits from our parents, grandparents, great grandparents and ancestors. Good hair, balding tendencies, perfect figures or pear-shaped ones -all these qualities can be attributed to the DNA we inherit. Now the scientists have come up with another heritable trait: happiness.

A lay person would probably immediately think: of course happiness is heritable. If you inherit a huge mansion and millions in the bank, that's definitely happiness inherited. This is not that kind of happiness we are talking about. Researchers from the University of London and the London School of Economics have looked into the genetic make up of people observing a particular molecule called serotonin that regulates mood. Each gene has something called an allele that carries a certain trait. According to the happiness researchers, some people carry an allele attributed to a happy disposition and this can be inherited.

This means you can just blame your general state of dissatisfaction with the world in general, on a parent, a grandparent, great grandparent or an unknown ancestor of the same bloodline as yours. Of course we were doing this anyway-blaming our parents for everything that is-but now we have the scientific ammunition to back up the whining. You don't feel like getting out of bed in the morning - blame the grumbling parent who had to wake up in the wee hours of the morning to get you ready for school. You hate your job, your boss, your friends, your spouse, the mustard sofa set you bought on an impulse, the cat, the air on a particular morning - it's not you, it's that horrid gene that does not have the happiness allele that was passed on to you. We love to blame others for everything that goes wrong in our lives, now we have the perfect scapegoat.

The bad news is, that there is no end to this blame game. If you have a grumpy parent, chances are you may be a grouch yourself and then your children or grandchildren (sometimes vile genes skip a generation) will be party poopers too.

The truth is the key to happiness is an elusive, mysterious, highly subjective notion. The aesthetic will say it is by detaching oneself from the material world and being one with the Divine that ultimate happiness is reached. For a two-year-old it may be the uninterrupted opportunity to run around the drawing room and being allowed to smash every breakable object in sight without any kind of parental disapproval. For a single, adult female it may be an hour glass figure, a fantastically well-paid job, the metabolism of a teenaged boy, not to mention a dashing Clooney type, doting husband with pots of money, loads of patience, heaps of gender sensitivity and absolutely no interest in any other woman besides her. As single male's idea of happiness may well be pots of money (at least that's a common denominator), dozens of stunning women fawning over him with zero possessiveness or desire for commitment, the ability to eat a whole cow without any changes to his six-pack torso, ownership of all the latest models of cars and gadgets, oh, and unlimited amounts of freedom. Older men and women have basically the same formula for happiness with a few more add ons - children who get straight As all through their academic careers then hold highly prestigious jobs at multinational companies, the UN or diplomatic service, who have the looks of movie stars but personalities of saints, produce a few dozen cherubic, doting grandchildren, who have villas in Spain...

Politicians of course have their own version of happiness. It could be the number of times they are shown on the news, the number of sycophants at their disposal, the overflow of donations from generous business persons, the 'magical' (read fearful) hold they have over their constituencies, the benevolence bestowed upon them by their chairpersons and of course the number of times they can badmouth their opponents at any public gathering.

Now whether all such versions of happiness are in some way inherited is something we will never know. What we do know is, if both your parents are the happy-go-lucky sorts, you have a pretty good chance of attaining that state of endless cheerfulness. Unless the trait has skipped a generation.


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