Recent research actually shows that happiness may have a gender specific component and that it is apparent even during fetal development. By the 8th week after conception, the female brain begins to differentiate from the male brain in very specific ways.
The female brain generates more neurons and therefore more neuronal connections in areas like the hippocampal region, which is actually physically larger in the female brain than in the male brain. This area is one component of the brain that is thought to govern emotional experience.
This may explain why many women have more capacity for tolerance and patience than most men do. It isn’t just in the areas that govern emotions that womens’ brains are more abundantly wired. The same is true in other parts of the brain which govern language; in fact women have 11% more neurons for language and hearing than do their male counterparts. Perhaps this is why we have to ask our husbands and sons to take the trash out repeatedly!
The male brain is wired completely differently. In the male brain, the neuronal circuitry is more abundant in areas of the brain, like the amygdala which is thought to govern aggression and sex drive. In fact the amygdala is up to 2 1/2 % smaller in women’s brains. Perhaps this is why women tend to be the peacemakers and men have traditionally been the warriors.
All of this different wiring leads researchers to hypothesize that happiness may have a genetic component, with women finding more happiness in strong relationships and community and men finding more happiness derived from acquisition and accomplishment.
Does this make men or women happier as a whole? Research indicates that women are alternately happier and sadder and that men tend to be more stable in their emtional experiences. After studying twins, one researcher has suggested that there is an actual “Happiness Set Point” that seems to be genetically determined. Similar to our weight’s set point, this is the level fron which we may deviate temporarily but to which we always seem to gravitate back.
The good new seems to be that while happiness may be up to 50% determined by genes and another 10% may be determined by circumstantial factors such as environment, income and comfort, the remaining 40% of our happiness is determined by how we choose to see life and how we react to what happens to us.
We can learn to experience life as if it holds blessings or curses in store for us, and our level of happiness will reflect this expectation… regardless of whether we happen to be male or female.