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A new study has found a gene that appears to make women happy, but it doesn’t work for men. The finding may help explain why women are often happier than men, the research team said. Scientists at the University of South Florida (USF), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute reported that the low-expression form of the gene monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) is associated with higher self-reported happiness in women. No such association was found in men.
“This is the first happiness gene for women,” said lead author Henian Chen, MD, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, USF College of Public Health.
“I was surprised by the result, because low expression of MAOA has been related to some negative outcomes like alcoholism, aggressiveness and antisocial behavior,” said Chen, who directs the Biostatistics Core at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine’s Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute. “It’s even called the warrior gene by some scientists, but, at least for women, our study points to a brighter side of this gene.”
While they experience higher rates of mood and anxiety disorders, women tend to report greater overall life happiness than do men. The reason for this remains unclear, Chen said. “This new finding may help us to explain the gender difference and provide more insight into the link between specific genes and human happiness.”
Chen and his co-authors suggest that testosterone may cancel out the positive effect of MAOA on happiness in men.
The potential benefit of MAOA in boys could wane as testosterone levels rise with puberty, Chen said. “Maybe men are happier before adolescence because their testosterone levels are lower.”"