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Discovery of first genetic variants associated with meaning in life

October 03, 2018

For the first time, locations on the human genome have been identified that can explain differences in meaning in life between individuals. This is the result of research conducted in over 220,000 individuals by Professor Meike Bartels and PhD student Bart Baselmans from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. The researchers identified two genetic variants for meaning in life and six genetic variants for happiness. The results were published this week in the scientific journal Scientific Reports.

The fact that genetic variants for a meaning in life have been found indicates that everyone is different and that differences between people in complex processes such as a meaning in life are in part due to biological differences. VU professor Meike Bartels: "We live in a society where everyone is expected to thrive, achieve the highest, and live a meaningful life. If we have a better idea of the causes of differences between people, we can use that information to help people who feel less happy or struggle with the meaning of life. We also find that there are environmental factors that are important for happiness, but not for meaning and vice versa. In the future we would like to identify which environmental factors are responsible for this discrepancy."

Individual differences

Previous research has shown that individual differences in happiness and well-being can partly be attributed to genetic differences between people. Furthermore, the first genetic variants for happiness were found a few years ago. Baselmans: "These results show that genetic differences between people not only play a role in differences in happiness, but also in differences for in meaning in life. By a meaning in life, we mean the search for meaning or purpose of life."

220 thousand DNA samples

All people who participated in the study are part of the UK Biobank and have donated a DNA sample and completed a questionnaire. Bartels: "We then tested which genetic variants in the DNA lead to differences in meaning in life." The genetic variants are mainly expressed in the central nervous system, showing the involvement of different brain areas.
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Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

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