Optimism, It’s all in Your Genes

You know those people who always look on the bright side, they make friends easily, they are always bright and shiny? They make life look easy, fun even. We love to hate them, don’t we? Well, we shouldn’t. It’s not their fault, they have a genetic advantage. That’s right! Proceedings from the National Academy of Science have found a possible genetic basis for optimism, self-esteem and mastery. Mastery is the belief that you have control over your own life and place in the world.

It all has to do with oxytocin, the love/cuddle hormone. Genetic variation of the oxytocin receptor (OXTR) may influence personality traits. DNA is made of four different base pairs; adenine, guanine, cytosine and thymine. Subtle changes in these base pairs can change how genes function. In the case of OXTR, one variant has more adenine. Carriers of this variant are prone to lower self-esteem and mastery and are more prone to depression. Individuals expressing the OXTR variant with more guanine (as opposed to adenine) are more prone to optimism. Scientists aren’t sure yet exactly how oxytocin release is affected by this change, but they are working on it.

Now don’t go getting all bent out of shape, these happy, shiny people have it easy, I’m doomed to be depressed forever. This variant can influence how you see the world and your place in it, but it is not the be all and end all. Your genes and your environment work together. Having the adenine variant just means you have a vulnerability towards depression, it doesn’t mean you are fated to be so. Your experiences and your attitude are major factors in your outlook on life.

National Institute of Health

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