Genetic and environmental correlations between subjective wellbeing and experience of life events in adolescence

Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2017 Sep;26(9):1119-1127. doi: 10.1007/s00787-017-0997-8. Epub 2017 May 16.


Some life events appear heritable due to the genetic influence on related behaviours. Shared genetic influence between negative behaviours and negative life events has previously been established. This study investigated whether subjective wellbeing and positive life events were genetically associated. Participants in the Twins Early Development Study (aged 16.32 ± .68 years) completed subjective wellbeing and life events assessments via two separate studies (overlapping N for wellbeing and life events measures ranged from 3527 to 9350). We conducted bivariate twin models between both positive and negative life events with subjective wellbeing and related positive psychological traits including subjective happiness, life satisfaction, optimism, hopefulness and gratitude measured at 16 years. Results suggested that the heritability of life events can partially be explained by shared genetic influences with the wellbeing indicators. Wellbeing traits were positively genetically correlated with positive life events and negatively correlated with negative life events (except curiosity where there was no correlation). Those positive traits that drive behaviour (grit and ambition) showed the highest genetic correlation with life events, whereas the reflective trait gratitude was less correlated. This suggests that gene-environment correlations might explain the observed genetic association between life events and wellbeing. Inheriting propensity for positive traits might cause you to seek environments that lead to positive life events and avoid environments which make negative life events more likely.

Keywords: Bivariate twin design; Gene–environment correlation; Life events; Subjective wellbeing.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child Welfare / psychology*
  • Environmental Health / methods*
  • Female
  • Gene-Environment Interaction*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Twins / genetics*