If you have a nagging desire to explore the world, frequently browse inexpensive flight tickets, or indulge in wild escape fantasies wherein you leave your job and live in a different European city selling your photographs online for a year, dissatisfaction with your current life may not entirely be to blame. Research shows that some people are more genetically inclined toward adventure-seeking, risk-taking and impulsivity. This is because of DRD4, or as some people call it, “the wanderlust gene.” The need to explore could be a lot more than just a quarter-life crisis. It could literally be part of who you are.
DRD4 is a dopamine gene. Dopamine plays a main role in reward and reinforcement; it’s responsible for giving you that “warm happy feeling” when you do something you like. People who have a longer DRD4 gene have an easier time gaining this sensation in their everyday lives – they are more inclined to be content with what they have. People who have a stunted DRD4 gene have a harder time experiencing that rush, and so they usually have to go to greater lengths to attain it. They’re more inclined to dislike the status quo, and seek reward from external sources and environments. This is precisely where travel comes into play: it’s the pinnacle of foreign, external stimuli.
Basically, the desire – if not need – to travel a lot comes from the inability to feel a dopamine rush easily in everyday life. It’s not hard to see why people with longer DHD4 genes fall into a certain characteristics and behaviors as well: they prefer normalcy, go with the grain, work traditional jobs, don’t question the powers-that-be, travel little, move infrequently, but are generally content with life.
However, it’s important to note that one particular gene cannot be solely responsible for one specific action. To say that our DNA codes are software that we are unable to act against is to dismiss human consciousness or autonomy or free will, which we know we have. However, it does make us more or less inclined to behave a certain way, especially depending on our nurturing or circumstance. This is why it’s called the “wanderlust” gene, and not the “travel” gene. It makes us more inclined to want to explore, take risks, and be impulsive – it doesn’t force us to do these things.
Either way you look at it, major aspects of our personalities – and sweeping trends in human behavior – are not random. And if you feel as though you may be on the shorter-end of the DHD4 spectrum, it’s in your best interest to honor it. Take your vacation days. Build your own side-business. Dress differently, make art, question everything, and explore what’s around you, even if you can’t make it all the way to the other side of the world.
The need to experience more than what’s in front of you is literally a part of you – at a cellular level. Honor that. Go.