Distinguishing happiness and meaning in life from depressive symptoms: A GWAS-by-subtraction study in the UK Biobank

Lianne P. de Vries, Perline A. Demange, Bart M. L. Baselmans, Christiaan H. Vinkers, Dirk H. M. Pelt, Meike Bartels

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

66 Downloads (Pure)


Hedonic (happiness) and eudaimonic (meaning in life) well-being are negatively related to depressive symptoms. Genetic variants play a role in this association, reflected in substantial genetic correlations. We investigated the overlap and differences between well-being and depressive symptoms, using results of Genome-Wide Association studies (GWAS) in UK Biobank. Subtracting GWAS summary statistics of depressive symptoms from those of happiness and meaning in life, we obtained GWASs of respectively “pure” happiness (neffective = 216,497) and “pure” meaning (neffective = 102,300). For both, we identified one genome-wide significant SNP (rs1078141 and rs79520962, respectively). After subtraction, SNP heritability reduced from 6.3% to 3.3% for pure happiness and from 6.2% to 4.2% for pure meaning. The genetic correlation between the well-being measures reduced from 0.78 to 0.65. Pure happiness and pure meaning became genetically unrelated to traits strongly associated with depressive symptoms, including loneliness, and psychiatric disorders. For other traits, including ADHD, educational attainment, and smoking, the genetic correlations of well-being versus pure well-being changed substantially. GWAS-by-subtraction allowed us to investigate the genetic variance of well-being unrelated to depressive symptoms. Genetic correlations with different traits led to new insights about this unique part of well-being. Our results can be used as a starting point to test causal relationships with other variables, and design future well-being interventions.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere32954
JournalAmerican Journal of Medical Genetics Part B: Neuropsychiatric Genetics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2024


Dive into the research topics of 'Distinguishing happiness and meaning in life from depressive symptoms: A GWAS-by-subtraction study in the UK Biobank'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this