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What’s the purpose of life? Genes could provide some answers, according to new study

Researchers have identified genetic variants linked to the search for life’s meaning and happiness.
What’s the purpose of life? Genes could provide some answers, according to new study
Well-being is a key issue associated with physical and mental health, functioning and longevity. It is a complex construct where research into the concept usually involves two major approaches, hedonism and eudaimonia, also covered by major philosophical schools of thought.

Hedonic well-being is defined in terms of attaining pleasure and avoiding pain, while eudaimonic well-being focuses on meaning and self-realisation centred on virtuous activity. The overlap and distinction between these two forms of well-being is a topic of ongoing debate.

To shed light on their relation, researchers partially supported by the EU-funded WELL-BEING project have identified genetic variations for happiness and meaning in life. Their findings were published in the journal ‘Scientific Reports’. “Our results reveal a large overlap between the genes that influence hedonism and the genes that influence eudaimonia.”

All in the genes?

As explained in a news release by Vrije Universiteit (VU) Amsterdam, the researchers identified two genetic variants for meaning in life and six for happiness. The news item notes that the genetic variants are mainly expressed in the central nervous system and show the involvement of different brain areas.

Quoted in the news release, VU Prof. Meike Bartels said: “We live in a society where everyone is expected to thrive, achieve the highest, and live a meaningful life. If we have a better idea of the causes of differences between people, we can use that information to help people who feel less happy or struggle with the meaning of life.” According to Bartels, the findings also show that “there are environmental factors that are important for happiness, but not for meaning and vice versa.” She added: “In the future we would like to identify which environmental factors are responsible for this discrepancy.”

The study included over 220 000 DNA samples and contributing participants’ responses to a questionnaire. Eudaimonic well-being was assessed with its core element meaning in life using the question: To what extent do you feel your life to be meaningful? Hedonic well-being was evaluated with its core element general happiness asking the question: In general how happy are you? The authors concluded: “Future studies should acknowledge that eudaimonic and hedonic well-being share overlapping genetic contributions and include both to increase our understanding of the etiology of well-being.”

The WELL-BEING (The dynamics underlying Well-being; Understanding the Exposome-Genome interplay) project started in 2018 and will run until 2023. It utilises an interdisciplinary approach to assess the underlying dynamics of well-being. To achieve this, it will use association, real-life and network methodology. The study will draw from “longitudinal twin-family data, molecular genetic data, and big data from satellite positioning (GPS), bluetooth beacons, geographical information systems (GIS), ambulatory assessment, and social network linkage,” as stated on CORDIS.

For more information, please see:
project on CORDIS

Source: Based on project information and media reports

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