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Feeling Happy Today? Thank Your Parents

doi: 10.1097/NNE.0b013e318276e01a
Departments: News, Notes and Tips

Perceptions that women are, in general, happier than men may have a physiological basis. Scientists from the University of South Florida, Columbia University, National Institutes of Health, and the New York State Psychiatric Institute reported that a specific gene is associated with higher self-reported happiness in women. There was no association found between this gene and self-reported happiness in men.

Low expression of the gene monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) has, in the past, been associated with negative behaviors including alcoholism, aggressiveness, and antisocial behaviors. However, the gene seems to increase happiness in women. Women report a higher rate of mood and anxiety disorders, but they report greater overall life happiness when compared with men. MAOA regulates the activity of an enzyme that breaks down serotonin, dopamine, and other “feel good” chemicals in the brain. Low expression of the gene allows for higher levels of these feel-good chemicals.

Researchers examined data from 345 individuals, 193 women and 152 men, who voluntarily participated in a longitudinal mental health study. DNA was analyzed for MAOA, and results correlated with self-reported happiness scores. Women with 1 copy of the low expression MAOA gene reported more happiness than those with none. Women with 2 copies of the low expression MAOA gene reported more happiness than did any other group. Men with copies of the gene reported no more happiness than others without the gene. Researchers hypothesize that testosterone may cancel the effect of the gene in men.

Henian Chen, MD, PhD, explains that a set of genes, along with life experiences, most likely determines our happiness levels. Chen proposes that mental health research may, based on information obtained from this study, now shift to determine how well-being is enhanced, along with the historical focus on mental health disorders.

Source: Science Daily: Science News. Gene that predicts happiness in women discovered. August 28, 2012. Available at Accessed October 1, 2012.

Submitted by: Robin E. Pattillo, PhD, RN, CNL, News Editor at

© 2013 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.