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Same genes involved with both depression and happiness, researchers conclude

UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD

Professors Elaine Fox, from Oxford University, and Chris Beevers from the University of Texas at Austin reviewed a number of studies for their paper in Molecular Psychiatry. Based on their research, they found that the same genes that are involved with depression are also involved with happiness. So rather than genes causing depression or happiness, it’s our environment that makes the difference, the researchers concluded.

“If you take a gene that is linked to mental illness, and compare people who have the same genetic variant, it becomes clear that what happens to their mental health is based on their environment. We suggest that while no gene 'causes' mental ill health, some genes can make people more sensitive to the effects of their environment - for better and for worse.

“If you have those genes and are in a negative environment, you are likely to develop the negative cognitive biases that lead to mental disorders. If you have those genes but are in a supportive environment, you are likely to develop positive cognitive biases that increase your mental resilience,” professor Fox explained.

Cognitive bias is when people consistently interpret situations through a particular mental ‘filter.’

Cognitive biases are formed based on the conclusions we make about life. These conclusions become part of our system of beliefs, which influences the ways we behave (how we think and act).

Cognitive biases are formed not because of genes but because of how we think about life. How we think about life is learned. This means that while the environment can influence how we think about life, it doesn’t determine how we think about life.

For example, research has found that two people experiencing the same environment can emerge from it vastly different. One person may be depressed and desiring to give up on life whereas another may be optimistic and invigorated to succeed. In these cases, it wasn’t the environment that made the difference but the attitude used to cope with the environment.

Attitudes result from learned behavior: the way a person has learned to cope with adversity, uncertainty, and risk.

For more information, Recovery Support members can read the information in Chapter 5.

Rather than genes determining whether a person becomes depressed or happy, or our environment, it’s our learned behavior that determines how we think about life, which determines whether we feel depressed or happy.

The attitudes we use determine how we feel. Attitudes are learned.

Fortunately, all of us can learn and adopt healthy attitudes, which can have a positive impact on how our genes and overall physical, psychological, and emotional health are affected.


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Authors: Jim Folk, Marilyn Folk, BScN. Last updated July 2016.

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