Opinion

Latimer: Link between life satisfaction and depression

It may not come as a surprise to you, but research shows our life satisfaction and risk for depression are linked.

Yes, those with a high degree of satisfaction or contentment with their lives are also at a lower risk for depression while those with a more pessimistic outlook are also the ones more likely to become depressed.

Of course this can raise the question of whether it is a lack of satisfaction with life that causes depression or simply that a depressed person is less likely to feel satisfied.

It turns out, both are largely determined by our genetic make-up.

A study published out of the University of Oslo and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health compared information from 1,500 sets of identical and fraternal twins to examine how depression risk is linked with overall lifetime satisfaction.

In the past, studies have found a person’s general life satisfaction tends to be similar over time.

If you are satisfied with your life at one point in time, it is likely you will be satisfied at other times as well.

This points to an underlying “disposition” or tendency toward a positive or negative outlook.

By using identical twins who share 100 percent of their genetic material as well as fraternal twins who share only 50 percent of their genes, this study was able to determine the extent to which variation and covariation was due to genes or environmental influences.

Results found both men and women studied who met the criteria for depression also reported lower life satisfaction.

Genes could explain three quarters of the relationship between depression and life satisfaction while the remaining one quarter could be explained by environmental factors.

Specific genes were not identified in this study and the authors caution that their data points to the importance of genetics for explaining the differences between people but that estimates may vary across time and place.

But what does all of this mean to us?

Is it possible to increase your life satisfaction and thus protect yourself from depression? Or is it all hard-wired?

Even though our underlying disposition may be relatively stable over time, and our genes account more for this than our environment, actions in our daily lives can still provide pleasure that is important.

Participating in activities we enjoy can certainly contribute to happiness and over time can work to improve our overall life satisfaction.

There is also evidence that one’s tendency to optimism or pessimism can be modified by cognitive behavioural therapy.

If you are someone who tends to see the glass half empty as a general rule than perhaps it would be wise to try and change this tendency in spite of your genetic predisposition.

Depressed individuals who seek appropriate treatment may also find a corresponding improvement in their overall life satisfaction.

If you or a loved one are experiencing depression, consider seeking professional help.

There are effective treatments available.

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