Ah age versus nurture, the age old debate. Are athletes born or are they made? Are psychopaths born insane or is it a result of their environment and their upbringing? These are questions for scholars and philosophers and they’re not going to be answered by me here, but what’s more important to consider and what’s much more relevant to our everyday lives is how our genetics impact us personally on a day to day level. You might not be an athlete, or a psychopath at the other end of the scale – but would you be happier if you had better genetics? And how capable are you of changing your luck?
The Role of Genetics
Genetics has a role in all kinds of thing, and it’s entirely impossible to deny what a huge impact this can have on us. For instance if you look at diseases alone then many of these have a huge genetic element – some that you are born with are of course entirely genetic, while others require a ‘genetic tendency’ and tend to run in families. If you are unfortunate enough to be the recipient of an unpleasant genetic disease then this is going to affect your health, but probably your happiness too.
To a lesser degree genetics has a role in our physical condition. Things like height and looks are largely genetically determined (environment has a slight role to play – things like diet can affect your height while you’re still growing) and when you’re fully grown there’s not much you can do about these factors without having a very painful operation.
In terms of happiness and health this will have impacts again – things like your height and your appearance can impact greatly on your career prospects and on your relationships – a short man for instance may find it harder to attract women.
Then there are the other elements that are almost 50/50. For instance there’s your physique and your weight which are both very much controlled by a combination of both genetics and lifestyle. Surely if you eat lots of cake and lie around all day then you’re going to put on a lot of weight, and not amount of good genetic would change that. At the same time though, if two people had exactly the same lifestyles and diets then genetics would still play a role in their appearance – as they would have different metabolisms, different amounts of growth hormone and testosterone, and a different body shape to begin with.
Likewise our happiness in terms of our general disposition could also be seen as a result of both genetics and lifestyle. For instance things like our diet and the exercise we do can affect our mood, as can of course how happy we are in our lives – whether or not we have lots of friends/like our job will impact our overall mood, particularly as our personalities are still developing. At the same time though, our happiness will also be impacted by genetic factors once again, as we all produce different cocktails of hormones in our brain and many aspects of personality have been shown to be hereditary. Many case studies involving brain injury or the use of mind-altering drugs, have demonstrated the clear link between the brain and the personality.
What Does This Mean?
So the conclusion very much here is that our overall happiness and our overall health are both controlled by a combination of genetics, lifestyle and other environmental factors. So complex is this interplay, and so different for each of us, that it would be impossible to directly pinpoint any one cause for us ‘being the way we are’ or for our lives being thus.
However all of this really means nothing when it comes to the way we live our lives. While there is a role involved for genetics, this should by no means cause us to behave any differently in trying to make ourselves as healthy and happy as possible.
The danger for many of us is that we use the role of genetics as an excuse not to try so hard in life – we assume that there are some areas in our lives where we are helpless to change anything and so go into a ‘helplessness response’ meaning that we don’t make the same effort to change our fortunes (and actually this psychological state can make us more likely to experience bad health and bad ‘luck’ too creating a vicious cycle).
No matter how small your ability to change your fortunes is, you should always try. Even just the act of trying itself can give you hope and determination that makes the world seem a little less bleak, and even if it only fractionally improves matters then it’s worth doing.
If you’re highly overweight and struggling to get into shape then because of a slow metabolism, you mustn’t give up – just start training harder. This might take determination and persistence – and perhaps those weren’t personality traits you were born with – but even they can be worked on and improved. And if you have a genetic illness that can’t be avoided, then you should at least try to live as healthily as possible otherwise, and be sure to follow the recommended treatment and lifestyle adjustments suggested by your doctor.
In other words, genetics don’t make it impossible for anyone to be happy, they can just increase the challenge. Likewise the right lifestyle can help to make even an unhealthy person as healthy as they can possibly be, and make a huge difference to their lives.