A human's level of happiness is linked to their genetic makeup, according to a researcher who carried out groundbreaking work in the area—but it's nearly impossible to modify genes to boost your contentment.
In an interview with CNBC at the World Government Summit in Dubai, Meike Bartels described herself as a "scientist on a mission." She's the university research chair at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands, and last year published a paper that, for the first time, linked genetics to happiness.
In a first ever study, Bartels and a group of researchers studied nearly 300,000 people, sampling DNA material as well as measures of well-being. Looking at human genomes, which contain the genetic material that determines an organism, the study found links between genes and feelings. There were three genetic variants for happiness, two that account for differences in symptoms of depression, and eleven locations on the human genome that may account for varying degrees of neurotic behavior.
When the study was published, there were two points on the human genome that Bartels said could be linked to human happiness. As the sample size grew, Bartels revealed on Saturday that the researchers have now found 20 areas on the genome linked to happiness.
However, Bartels said that even though genes are linked to your levels of happiness, external environmental factors can actually influence how those genes exhibit themselves. She is now focused on uncovering the extent of that dynamic.
"My main aim is to get a better hold of the environment. We think we know a lot about the environment but we do not. Most environmental factors are genetically influenced," Bartels told CNBC.
Knowing the location of specific genes opens up questions about the ability to modify a person's genetic make-up. If you know what to change to be happier, why wouldn't somebody in the people in the future make sure they are full of happiness genes?
Because it'll be nearly impossible, Bartels said. She added that there'll be a "couple thousand" genetic variants linked to happiness so it'll be "too complex" to start altering that much DNA, but she declared she's up for the task.
"I am not afraid," the professor said.
Meanwhile, learning about the genetics of happiness and how the environment affects that could be the key to better health and education, which could be customized to each individual person in the world.
"I think when we realize people are genetically different, we can start customizing more than we do now," Bartels told CNBC.