Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

'Happiness Gene' Found to Work Better in Women

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

'Happiness Gene' Found to Work Better in Women

Article excerpt

We might not always act like it, but women do report being happier overall than men in countless psychological and sociological studies. Now a research team led by a University of South Florida scientists is suggesting that women actually have the genetic edge when it comes to satisfaction with our lot in life.

Apparently a gene that has a reputation for making men want to do battle has a more beneficial effect in women, perhaps because of men's higher testosterone levels, says lead author Henian Chen, associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, USF College of Public Health. His research, "The MAOA gene predicts happiness in women," appears online in advance of print in the journal Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry.

The presence of this particular gene (a low-expression allele of monoamine oxidase A, sometimes called the "warrior gene") -- which suppresses an enzyme that breaks down serotonin, dopamine and other neurotransmitters in the brain -- seems to act as a natural anti- depressant in women, the study reports. Those who have it report being measurably happier. But men who have the same gene report being no happier than men who lack it, Chen said.

Chen, who told me he is more interested in the science of well- being than in mental or mood disorders, said his team targeted the MAOA gene because of its proven relationship to mood.

"We know, for example, that if people have high-expression MAOA, they feel depressed," he said. "And we know women are happier than men. The question is, why? So this finding partially answers the question."

Women have a higher chance of possessing this "happiness gene," Chen said, because they have two of these alleles and men only have one. So whereas men can only have high- or low-expression MAOA, women can be high-high, low-low, or a combination. This means 59 percent of women have what seems to amount to a built-in natural bent toward happiness.

About 33 percent of men have the gene, Chen said, himself included. Happiness scores for the men in his study showed this had no effect for them -- probably, he said, because high levels of testosterone cancel out the gene's mood-lifting powers. …

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