A new study just released finds that women may have a genetic advantage in the happiness department over men. Scientists at the University of South Florida (USF), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute have identified a gene that appears to make women happy, but it doesn’t work for men. The finding may help explain why women are often happier than men.
After controlling for various factors, ranging from age and education to income, the research team analyzed data from a population-based sample of 345 individuals – 193 women and 152 men – and reported that the low activity form of the gene monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) is associated with higher self-reported happiness in women. No such association was found in men.
The MAOA gene regulates the activity of an enzyme that breaks down serontin, dopamine and other neurotransmitters in the brain — the same “feel-good” chemicals targeted by many antidepressants. The low-expression version of the MAOA gene promotes higher levels of monoamine, which allows larger amounts of these neurotransmitters to stay in the brain and boost mood.
“This is the first happiness gene for women,” said lead author Henian Chen, MD, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, USF College of Public Health. “I was surprised by the result, because low expression of MAOA has been related to some negative outcomes like alcoholism, aggressiveness and antisocial behavior,” said Chen. “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.”
So, why the genetic gender gap in feeling good?
The researchers suspect the difference may be explained in part by the hormone testosterone, found in much smaller amounts in women than in men. Chen and his co-authors suggest that testosterone may cancel out the positive effect of MAOA on happiness in men.
Sorry fellas. But, rest assured your ability to get happy is not a completely hopeless situation. Even Chen admits that happiness can’t be boiled down to a single gene. Rather, he says, there is likely a set of genes that, along with life experiences, shape our individual happiness levels.