The think tank: Born this way – Do your genes determine who you are?

Have you ever heard people complaining about how lucky some individuals are for being naturally thin/tall/tanned/you name it?

Most people direct this comment with a mix of jealousy and admiration towards people who were born with some attractive or desirable physical characteristics. But DNA does not only carry physical attributes, and we know we are not made purely of what others can see – God bless! DNA determines how we look like, but what about the rest of us? What about our mind? What about our success rate in life? What about our levels of happiness?

Tekst: Aneley Lampugnani

I remember having a classmate in high school who used to complain that he would never be able to learn English. His explanation for me being able to learn faster than him when we both were the same age and studied at the same school was that “I was born smarter than him”. I remember laughing; it was hard for me to understand why he thought I was born with something he lacked. And even though I now know that some people have some areas of their brain more developed than others, hence, most people have it easier to learn and understand topics in one subject, but struggle in others, I still refuse to believe that we should just “blame it on our DNA”. Despite all, some people accept their mental, social and emotional capabilities as they were something unalterable and given at birth.

I still refuse to believe that we should just “blame it on our DNA”.

So, the question is: who is right? Are the abstract parts of us as individuals also something we can blame on our ancestors? In other words, are your genes as responsible of your jeans size as they are on your life accomplishments and your emotional strength? Pick your side.

NO! Genes have nothing to do with who you become.

According to Sharron Lowe, author of The Mind Makeover, «happiness, success and fulfilment are states and emotions that we create and control. Your destiny is just that, your destiny». She insists that the idea of some people being born successful, is a myth.

In addition, many find the idea of their whole life being dependant on what’s written in their genetic code quite disturbing. «The idea that unconscious biological forces drive our beliefs and actions would seem to pose a real threat to our free will: we like to think that we make choices on the basis of our own conscious deliberations», explains Julian Bagginni in an article for The Guardian.

YES! Genes are to blame (or to thank!).

According to the Daily Mail, research shows that much of our predisposition towards determination, sociability and self-control and sense of purpose is in our genes. In fact, our DNA plays a bigger role in influencing these traits than the circumstances we were raised in, or the people who we had around while growing up. Taken together, these facets of personality can make the difference between success and failure, say the Edinburgh University researchers. Our genes also largely determine how determined and persistent we are. This is important in terms of success, as someone who refuses to give up is more likely to achieve their dreams than someone who throws in the towel at the first hiccough.

Our genes also largely determine how determined and persistent we are.

Dr. Belsky, as cited in the Harvard Business Review, agrees. “Though DNA isn’t destiny per se, it does have something to say about the kind of people we become and what we achieve”, he explains. Some research shows that some individuals who carry specific genetic variants, ones that had already been linked to educational attainment in other studies, develop earlier as children and put higher expectations for themselves. The same individuals, as adults, usually spend more years educating themselves, and end up holding more prestigious jobs, managing their finances in a more effective manner and even created more long-lasting romantic relationships.  “All of that does suggest our genes can affect our future”, explains Belsky.

IT’S COMPLICATED! Genes can help your success, but they do not guarantee it.

In his book “Happiness: A user guide for human beings”, Ricardo Lampugnani explains that we are born happy and with an infinite potential to achieve our goals, but that not even having all the right set of DNA material can do much for us if we do not have a will to make things happen. He compares two fictitious cases: two aspiring tennis players. One, born in a wealthy family that can afford to pay his tennis classes, and gifted with the right set of physical skills, speed and a naturally athletic body. The other, born in a much humbler environment and without the same physical skills as the other. One might think that the first one would achieve what he wanted, but instead, it is the second one who does. The difference between the two? The power of will. “We are all born equal, but different”, remarks the author, and adds: “I do believe that, when the human being lives harmonically and in line with goals, listening to its true self, the individual can achieve amazing things”. In other words, it is not only what we are given by nature our natural gifts or characteristics, but what we do with them, what makes a difference on our success.

«The Think Tank» is a column about everything and nothing. Columnist Aneley Lampugnani writes about whatever is on her mind.

Read more articles in English here.

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