Where the Science of Psychology Meets the Art of Being Human

Depression & Happiness: Is the difference in our DNA?

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If only the gene pool came with a filter and a half decent lifeguard …

The propensity to feel happiness, or not, might lie in our DNA in the form of an unhappiness gene.

Clearly happiness is not about what we have – there are plenty of unhappy people who have a lot and plenty of happy people who have little.

Scientists may have found the answer – it’s in our DNA, in the form of a gene, ADRA2b, that causes some people to pay more attention to negative emotional events.

The gene is present in about 50% of Caucasians which is much higher than in other ethnic groups.

The ADRA2b gene influences the degree to which people tune in to negative or threatening things around in the environment, affecting not only how events are perceived in the first place, but also how they are remembered later on.

The study involved showing participants a series of emotional words which were positive, negative, or neutral. Participants who had the ADRA2b gene variant were more like to perceive the negative words than those who did not have the variant. Words which were positive were perceived similarly by all participants.

For example, people with the gene are more likely to notice an angry face in a crowd and remember it later on, rather than enjoying the company of those around them.

As explained by Prof Rebecca Todd, lead author of the study, ‘the findings suggest people experience emotional aspects of the world partly through gene-coloured glasses – and that biological variations at the genetic level can play a significant role in individual differences in perception.’

Being emotionally sensitive to what’s happening in the environment is a good thing – it’s the food of happy relationships and a safe and nurturing environment. Things can’t be put right if nobody notices when they are wrong.

Focussing too much on the negative does harm. Rumination – focusing on negative thoughts and events – is a risk factor for depression.

Perception is a critical part of the way we experience and respond to the world. It influences everything – our mood, our relationships, the goals we set, the way we bring up our children. Everything.

It’s important to remember that genetics don’t necessarily have to determine outcome. Think of it like walking around in a dark room. You bump into things, stumble, fall. But when you turn on a light everything that was there in the dark is still there – but now you can navigate around it.

For those who tend to perceive life with a grey hue, being armed with this knowledge can open up the possibility that just because you feel it – negative, threatened, sad – doesn’t necessarily mean it has to dictate who you are. 

Genes interact with our environment and our upbringing and though you can’t change your genes, you can change your environment, how you respond to it, and those you allow to be in it. For ways to pull out of negative thinking, see here.

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Hey Warrior - A book about anxiety in children.








Hey Sigmund on Instagram

There is absolutely nothing that feels okay about There is absolutely nothing that feels okay about moving our children towards something that fuels their anxiety and distress. The drive to scoop them up and lift them over that ‘something’ can feel monumental, because as parents we are wired to protect our children from distress. This is related to attachment, and it’s is one of the strongest instincts known to us humans. .
♥️
But sometimes we will need to be brave enough for them, and remove avoidance as an option. This might feel awful but it’s important. The brain learns from experience so the more they avoid the more they will be driven to avoid, but the more they are brave the more they will be brave. It’s okay if this happens in little steps, as long as the steps are forward. .
♥️
When we take avoidance off the table, things might get worse before they get better. When something that has always worked stops working, we’ll do that thing more before we try something different. We all do this. If avoidance has worked as a way to bring calm, the amygdala (the part of the brain in charge of anxiety) will be rock solid in the belief that this is the only way to feel safe. .
♥️
When we stop supporting avoidance, the amygdala will often recruit other emotions (anger, distress) to make us (the recruited support) bring back avoidance as an option. This is not bad behaviour or manipulative behaviour. It is absolutely 100% NOT that. It’s the brain making way for the only way it knows to feels safe and calm - avoidance. .
♥️
There is no doubt you love your kiddos and would do anything to support them. But anxiety has a way of messing with this. When anxiety drives avoidance, it can feel as though we’re supporting our kids but we’re actually supporting anxiety. .
♥️
When we lift them over the things that make them anxious, but which are safe (and often life-giving), we are inadvertently aligning ourselves with anxiety and its message that they aren’t brave enough, or that the only way to be safe is to avoid the things that make them anxious. But we know this isn’t true. We know they are capable of greatness, and that greatness is often made of tiny brave steps.♥️
.

There is absolutely nothing that feels okay about moving our children towards something that fuels their anxiety and distress. The drive to scoop them up and lift them over that ‘something’ can feel monumental, because as parents we are wired to protect our children from distress. This is related to attachment, and it’s is one of the strongest instincts known to us humans. .
♥️
But sometimes we will need to be brave enough for them, and remove avoidance as an option. This might feel awful but it’s important. The brain learns from experience so the more they avoid the more they will be driven to avoid, but the more they are brave the more they will be brave. It’s okay if this happens in little steps, as long as the steps are forward. .
♥️
When we take avoidance off the table, things might get worse before they get better. When something that has always worked stops working, we’ll do that thing more before we try something different. We all do this. If avoidance has worked as a way to bring calm, the amygdala (the part of the brain in charge of anxiety) will be rock solid in the belief that this is the only way to feel safe. .
♥️
When we stop supporting avoidance, the amygdala will often recruit other emotions (anger, distress) to make us (the recruited support) bring back avoidance as an option. This is not bad behaviour or manipulative behaviour. It is absolutely 100% NOT that. It’s the brain making way for the only way it knows to feels safe and calm - avoidance. .
♥️
There is no doubt you love your kiddos and would do anything to support them. But anxiety has a way of messing with this. When anxiety drives avoidance, it can feel as though we’re supporting our kids but we’re actually supporting anxiety. .
♥️
When we lift them over the things that make them anxious, but which are safe (and often life-giving), we are inadvertently aligning ourselves with anxiety and its message that they aren’t brave enough, or that the only way to be safe is to avoid the things that make them anxious. But we know this isn’t true. We know they are capable of greatness, and that greatness is often made of tiny brave steps.♥️
.
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