Why are Danish people the happiest people on Earth? It could be their DNA.
Denmark has consistently topped polls measuring people's happiness year after year. And according to research from the University of Warwick, genetics could be the reason behind the country's high level of happiness.
Researchers gathered data on 131 countries through several international surveys, including the Gallup World Poll, World Value Survey and the European Quality of Life Surveys. The researchers then linked their data to cross-national data on genetic distance and well-being.
"The results were surprising. We found that the greater a nation's genetic distance from Denmark, the lower the reported well-being of that nation," said Eugenio Proto, one of the researchers, in a news release.
Their research adjusted for many other factors that could influence a country's happiness, including Gross Domestic Product, culture, religion and the strength of the welfare state.
But how happy is Denmark compared with other nations? In last year's World Happiness Report done by the United Nations, Denmark was ranked the happiest nation on Earth with an average life satisfaction score of 7.69 out of 10. Next in line were four other northern European countries, Norway, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Sweden. Denmark has also been first in the European Commission's "Eurobarometer" table of citizen well-being every year since 1973, according to The Daily Mail.
The team also analyzed existing research that suggests that long and short variants of a certain gene, known as 5-HTTLPR, are associated with varying probabilities of clinical depression. The longer variant of the gene is associated with higher life satisfaction. The scientists found that among the 30 nations in the study, Denmark and the Netherlands had the highest percentage of people with the long variant of the gene.
But does the link between genetics and happiness hold up across continents and generations? It seems so. After cross-referencing with data on American well-being, the researchers found that there is an unexplained positive correlation between the overall happiness of a nation and the observed happiness of Americans whose ancestors hail from that nation.
These genetic patterns could one day be integral in measuring a country's prosperity. "Countries are gradually giving up the goal of high GDP and trying to find a better measure of human well-being. Science will help us to do that," Andrew Oswald, one of the researchers on the team, told Medical News Today. "I reckon that over the next few decades we will see biomarker measures come to be used in a systematic way."
The working paper can be found online here (PDF).