Christopher Knippers, Ph.D.
There is a certain subtle bullying in our culture of people who struggle with health, psychological challenges, finances and relationships. This does not happen in all cultures. In many cultures people who struggle in any way are simply given more support.
People who are convinced that we have control of our own destiny regardless of our challenges will tell us to just push through, think positive, look at all the paraplegic athletes, “I overcame hardship therefore so can you!” This is based on the false notions that we do have total control of our lives, and that we all have the same basic abilities. This reasoning goes: “It’s all up to you how your life turns out. It’s all in your mental attitude.” Most people like to think we control our own destiny.
Some people do not take into consideration the thousands of factors in the world that determine the outcome of any individual’s life. There are thousands of influences on our “destiny.” Some are tangible, and some are unseen.
While environmental factors (e.g. parenting, culture, experiences) do have significant influence on our behaviors and thoughts, the most profound influence is your DNA. Genetics is the most influential factor in determining how a person responds to everything in life. Yes, of course environmental factors play a starring role; and your cognitive state is indeed important. Numerous people have gone beyond their poor genetics, and their poor environment by a persistent determination to succeed. Miracles do happen. Rain falls on the just and the unjust. However, the way you perceive and respond to miracles, rain, luck, whatever, is still influenced by your DNA.
So, your best bet at having a happy, healthy, fulfilling life and relationships is to choose your grandparents wisely.
If you have read any of my writings you know that I do strongly believe that practicing realistic thinking, holistic health (e.g. nutrition and exercise), and having a spiritual connection changes your life and gives you a boost no matter what. All of that notwithstanding, your genetic makeup is going to be the dominant force in how your life turns out.
At the outset, I must confess that I am one of those people who thinks it is vital to consider how I am responsible for any challenging situation in my my life whether it be health, relationships, finances, etc.; and how I can improve. However, I am increasingly aware of what a highly significant role genetics/DNA, and individual neurological functioning plays on our behavior and in our ability to be healthy in any area of life.
I will also confess to being very weary of people not taking responsibility for their actions. Refusing to take into consideration that their behavior played a role their misfortune. Blame is almost the zeitgeist currently. I just heard parents on a news program blaming Snap Chat for their son ordering drugs and overdosing; never mentioning a word about his or their responsibility in the ordering of drugs on the internet without a prescription in the first place. I do believe that it is important for all of us to be as responsible as possible in the choices we make in any aspect of our lives. However, I am increasingly aware of the biological determinants of the way we perceive things and the choices we make in responding to those perceptions.
In years past I have waxed eloquent on how we can control our outcomes in life through practicing holistic health: Proper nutrition, exercise; meditation; spirituality; and cognitive adjustment. For over 40 years I have been cajoling readers and patients to change their physical and emotional challenges by practicing holistic health.
My father used to tell my older sisters and I to just “Straighten up and fly right!” I have sounded a bit like that in the past when it came to overcoming physical and emotional challenges. Well, perhaps many people are just not as capable of making the leap from disadvantaged to overcomer. Maybe some people are genetically hindered from just straightening up and flying right.
I am discovering that there is a profound genetic and neurobiological difference between the paraplegic Romanian orphan who becomes an Olympic star, and the fully functioning well-educated middle class young adult who can’t seem to get out of his mother’s basement and aspire to be so much as a person who learns to ask, “Do you want fries with that.” Both may just be responding to their genetic makeup, and the coding of their DNA.
Some of the more commonly-known traits affected by DNA include physiological characteristics, cognitive intelligence, emotional intelligence, motor skills, creativity, energy level, and longevity. However, there are lesser-known traits also influenced by genetics/DNA such as financial acumen, social skills, competitive vs. cooperative nature, perception, motivational level, and personality traits.
There is even something called “transgenerational transmission” which refers to environmental exposure which affected a relative (usually a parent) also affecting the next generation which was not exposed to that environment. In more simple words, the environmental influences which affected your ancestors might be affecting you also, even though you were never exposed to that particular environment. If your ancestors lived through great trauma and hardship, you might also have a tendency to feel anxiety and stress. By the same token, if your ancestors successfully overcame hardship, or simply had a really nice life you might have a tendency to be resilient or joyful.
In some cases people can bypass or in some way compensate for a lousy batch of DNA. Many people, through intense determination can overcome devastating circumstances, or DNA that is less than ideal. Holistic health practices are still going to be helpful in living your best life regardless of your genetic predispositions. But be sure to not judge yourself and others. The determinants of certain behaviors might just be factors which are out of conscious control.
Everyone, regardless of genetics or environment has the potential for great value in this world. Regardless of how your DNA lined up, or how conducive your environment has been, you can’t go wrong by focussing on your strengths, your passions; and being kind.
Christopher Knippers, Ph.D., April 18, 2021