ABU DHABI // A Dutch professor involved in ground-breaking research on happiness praised the UAE’s move to foster happiness among residents as a government goal.
“It is maybe the most important topic you should focus on as a country,” said Meike Bartels, a professor of genetics and wellbeing at VU Amsterdam University.
“It has been shown that happy people are healthier, they have better social capital and greatly contribute to the development of a society.”
Prof Bartels said the first step a country had to make to increase the happiness of its community was to listen to what people say would make them happy.
Rather than focusing resources primarily on the unhappy minority, a country’s best interest was to make the majority happier, she said.
Adopting the same philosophy in her dissertation led Prof Bartels to delve into the science of happiness.
“It all started with a conversation about the research of smoking and why the only question was always ‘why do you smoke?’ and never ‘why don’t you smoke?’,” she said.
“We all have the same peer pressure, so I’m far more interested in the group with the ones who do not want to start in the first place.”
During her studies on the development of Dutch children, she found that a quarter of them had behavioural issues but she chose to focus on the majority who did not.
Her most recent study, conducted with a fellow professor, was the first in history to isolate parts of the human genome that could explain the differences in how people experience happiness.
The research relied on the analysis of identical twins by comparing findings from a study involving 17 countries and about 300,000 participants.
Prof Bartels found that twins who grew up apart scored closer on happiness levels than brothers and sisters who lived together, and that 40 per cent of differences in happiness between people was genetic, while 60 per cent of these differences was due to environmental influences.
“This is not to say we cannot change our level of happiness, but just that for some people it might be harder,” she said.
In fostering happiness among its people, a country cannot apply one-size-fits-all initiatives, as the perception of happiness varies greatly, according to Prof Bartels. “Some people might feel great when they exercise, but there are others who will never feel happy with exercising,” she said.
The important thing was to help people find out what makes them happy while giving them the chance to pursue those activities, she said.
Prof Bartels will be giving a lecture at New York University’s campus on Saadiyat island on Tuesday at 6.30pm.
Source: uae news