The Danish are happy people, according to numerous studies that have compared happiness levels in many countries, and a recent study has reported that it is in their DNA. The study was carried out by IZA, which is the German economic research institute, and it was published as an IZA Discussion Paper. Economists who work in the Center for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy at the University of Warwick performed the study and published the report.
The study consisted of three analyses. In the first analysis, they looked at the genetic distance among the populations of different countries. They used international survey data from 131 countries. The results showed that the greater the nation’s genetic distance from Denmark, the lower the state of well-being. In other words, the closer a nation was to the genetic makeup of the Danish, the happier the country. The concept of genetic distance among nations was originally developed in previous studies and this study used the concept, which was based on 42 world populations and 120 alleles (different versions) of genes.
In the second analysis, they considered an association between mental well-being and variation in the serotonin-transporter-gene linked polymorphic region (5-HTTLPR). This gene influences the reuptake of serotonin and serotonin levels have been implicated in determining moods in humans. While most studies on serotonin and happiness or depression have considered the association with the 5-HTTLPR gene in individuals, this study explored the association on a population level. The authors of the study suggested that there was an “externality” effect in that the happiness of one person had an effect on the happiness of others through families and friendships. Therefore, they said it is expected that the effect of a genotype on individual well-being could have larger effects on a population level. The results from this part of the study showed that the Danish had a lower prevalence of a version of the 5-HTTLPR gene that was associated with lower levels of satisfaction. It may be that the Danish are happy because fewer Danes have this version of the 5-HTTLPR gene.
In the third analysis, they looked at U.S. immigrants and their country of origin. Specifically, they looked at happiness as a function of well-being in their family’s original home nation. In the study, they looked at people who lived in the U.S. and determined their family’s country of origin. They then determined whether there was a correlation between the subjective well-being of the descendants of the immigrants in the U.S. and the subjective well-being of the original country. The authors suggested that parents transmit both their genetic and cultural traits to their offspring. The results from this portion of the study indicated that there was a positive correlation and the happiness level of Americans whose ancestors came from a given country was similar to the happiness level of the country of their ancestors.
Denmark consistently ranks at the top of the list in the United Nations World Happiness Report. After adjusting for prosperity, culture, religion or geographical position, people in Denmark and The Netherlands are consistently ranked as the happiest nations and Italy and France are ranked in the bottom of the list, even though these countries have a high GDP. This study was an attempt to answer the question about why the Danish are happy using a genetic analysis. While some may say that the answer is likely not that simple and more study is warranted, nevertheless, it seems that the Danish are happy people and it may be in their DNA.
By Margaret Lutze