Do you wonder why some people seem happy with a positive outlook all the time even in the face of difficult situations? And why other people seem to get discouraged about everything with even the slightest downturn in events? Well, the answer just may lie in their gene, says recent information published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Let me tell you more about it. . .
Your Genes and Your Happiness
Recently, researchers pinpointed a certain hormone in your body – oxytocin – that has been deemed responsible for influencing whether you are more optimistic or pessimistic. This hormone was also found to govern your sense of self-esteem and mastery – the idea that you are in control of your life and destiny. Oxytocin is a hormone associated with feelings of love and cuddling. It’s high when you fall in love and is abundant immediately following childbirth. It is what allows mothers to bond with their newborns through breastfeeding. In adult males and females, it is also released during orgasm as another mechanism to encourage bonding of mates.
The researchers study revealed that there is a specific area on the oxytocin genetic receptor site that actually influences whether you will be more optimistic or pessimistic in your outlook on life. Apparently, there is a combination of 2 variants that exist in this area of the oxytocin gene and have been labeled “A” and “G” by the researchers. Their study looked at 326 participants who were asked about their feelings of optimism, self-esteem and mastery. They were also asked about their feelings of depression. The researchers then measured the participants’ genetic material through their saliva.
Those participants who had 1 or 2 “A” variants in their genes were noted to have fewer feelings of optimism, self-esteem and mastery and more feelings of depression than people with 2 “G” variants. Participants with an “A” variant in their genes were viewed as having a genetic handicap predisposing them to pessimism and depression. Participants who had two “G” variants saw the world – and their life within it – in a more positive light.
With these findings, you might be thinking you’re doomed to feel pessimistic and negative most the time. Not so say the researchers. Your genetics may influence, or predict, how you might view the world and your role in it, but there can be a lot of mitigating factors which push you towards happiness rather than away from it. For instance, how you were raised – happy family and life experiences can influence you towards seeing things more optimistically.
It’s like having a gene that may predispose you to developing diabetes. That doesn’t mean that you’re going to get diabetes. With specific behavior aimed at preventing getting the disease, your behavior can overcome the genetic predisposition. The same is true with the oxytocin gene. Your behavior – consciously deciding to “look on the bright side” and try to stay more optimistic about life – can help you overcome any genetic predisposition towards pessimism, or depression, that you might have.
Things You Can Do To Boost Optimism
One of the quickest optimism, and self-esteem, boosters you can do is to socialize. Being around other people, or connecting to them in a cheerful way via a phone call or even through social media, can raise your oxytocin/happiness levels immediately. Here are some other examples:
- Attending concerts – listening to music boosts oxytocin and happiness on its own, but concerts are usually high-energy, happiness charged events, even more so if they take place outdoors.
- One-on-one interaction – having a meal, or just coffee, with a friend and having a deep conversation about events in your life can boost your happiness levels.
- Exercise – exercise increases serotonin and oxytocin levels – especially walking, or swimming in warm water. Dancing within a group of people can elevate these brain chemicals and hormones even further.
- Social media – even connecting to people on Facebook, Linked In, etc, can have a positive boost in your outlook on life.
- Spirituality – studies have shown that people who engage in meditation or practicing their specific religion (attending services) regularly have higher oxytocin levels. In general, they perceive themselves to be happier.
- Generosity – studies show that being generous helps you as well. Donate some of your time to volunteering. Helping people in need can greatly boost your feelings of self-esteem and happiness. It can also help you feel more connected to others knowing that your giving can have a positive effect on someone else’s life.
- Pets – having a close relationship with a pet can lower your blood pressure and release more oxytocin. Having a pet to take care of can make you feel needed and boost your self-esteem.
Although your genetics may influence your view of the world and your place in it, it doesn’t have to determine your outlook and experiences. It’s normal to feel down when bad things happen in your life but your ability to bounce back is determined by your own behavior, despite your genetic structure. Staying connected to others, and engaging in behaviors that help you feel upbeat, positive, and cheerful, can help you master all life’s twists and turns even if your genes have dealt you a few bad cards.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
Natural Health News
Optimism May be Partly inYour Genes, http://www.webmd.com/balance/news/20110916/optimism-partly-in-your-genes?page=2
How To Naturally Increase Oxytocin, http://marriagegems.com/2012/01/23/how-to-naturally-increase-oxytocin-and-why-this-may-help-your-marriage/
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