Friday, May 06, 2011


Newspapers are abuzz today with news of a happiness gene, as researchers at LSE have found that people with two long versions of the gene 5-HTT were 17.3% more likely to say they were "very satisfied" with their life compared to those who had two short versions. People with one long version of the gene were 8.5% more likely to be "very satisfied".

As a person who probably has two dwarf versions of this gene, I obviously take an interest. But what occurs to me today is this means that there is obviously evolutionary advantage in being unhappy, in being dissatisfied with life, otherwise women would have long given short shrift to those men among us with pygmy-length happy genes and the whole human race would by now be living in a bubble of ecstatic contentment. The way people sometimes talk to me you'd think that misery was a dangerous weapon that could harm innocent children, but it seems that evolution thinks differently and in fact misery is a valuable tool in the human toolbox.

This asks questions about the value of the Gross National Happiness statistics that, in some form or other, we may be moving towards. I've always thought they were a good idea, in part to try and break the idea that money is the only or best means of valuing things. But if unhappiness and dissatisfaction is actually evolutionarily selected for, then a happy country may not actually be a happy country. Or, to put it in less obtuse terms, a happy country may not be as obviously a good thing as it might seem.

Late added extra: Does Depression Help Us Think Better?