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Wanderlust gene: Why some people are always chasing greener pasture

By Sharon Maas

There are people who stay at home, content, and never travel.

There are others who seem always on the move, criss-crossing across the globe in search of—what? The perfect country, the perfect home? Or is it just curiosity? Do they simply seek adventure, new experiences? Whatever the cause, they are globetrotters, always on the move, never a whole year in the same country, the passport never out of date, always ready grab. Their money spent not on new cars or new furniture or new clothes or new stereo equipment, but on flights and accommodation and all the related expenses. And spent without the least regret. And even when they are dirt poor, they still manage to travel. Somehow.

I belong in the latter group. And I envy, how I envy, the first group. That sense of knowing, without a doubt, where you belong. That here, in this house, this town, this country, I will stay. Not to feel that urge to leave again, to find a better place, a better home. Roots. To be rooted in one spot, and never to leave again. As I grow older that need grows stronger and stronger.

I am now 64. Over my lifetime I have lived in seven countries on four continents. Those countries, in no particular order are: Guyana, India, the UK, the US, Germany, France, Ecuador.

By “lived” I mean I spent at least six months in that country, and had the intention, or the hope, of settling there permanently. Yet always I moved on. The most permanent of those countries is Germany, where I have settled, mostly, for the last forty years. It will not be my last home in this life.

And even apart from living in those seven countries, I have travelled to many others. Trekked through South America for a year when I was 19. Taken the overland route to India from Europe when I was 23. Taken trips to other European and Caribbean countries. And I have a bucket list of other countries I’d love to visit: Australia. Canada. Vietnam. Malaysia. Indonesia. Kenya.

But why? Where does this urge to move come from? And why do some people never feel it? My husband, for instance: he had only left Germany once before I met him, and had never flown. Perhaps it was one of the things I liked about him: that sense of permanence, of being rooted. I lacked it. I longed for it.

I recently read an article that discusses whether the urge to move is genetic. This psychology blog says that the inherent urge to travel can be traced back to one gene, DRD4-7R. This gene has been dubbed the “wanderlust gene” because of its correlation with increased levels of curiosity and restlessness. DRD4-7R is a genetic derivative of the gene DRD4, which is associated with the dopamine levels in the brain. Those who carry this genetic information, says the blog, typically share one common theme, a history of travelling:

A study by Chen (1999) found the DRD4-7r form of the gene more likely to occur in modern day societies where people migrated longer differences from where we first originated in Africa many thousands of years ago. Another more recent study also reported similar findings: those who lived in cultures whose ancestors migrated out of Africa the furthest and the fastest/earliest were more likely to have the DRD4-7r gene (Dobbs, 2012). These findings suggest that this gene could be the motivation behind the yearning to travel, to move and to see the world: as it possibly did with our ancient ancestors.

I can well see genetics playing a part in my own urge to travel. I was born in British Guiana, now Guyana, in South America, of mixed race heritage. In my ancestry are Africans, Europeans and Amerindians—American Indians, or Native Americans. Could it be that my genes are urging me to go back to where my ancestors came from? To Africa, to Europe? Even Amerindians, according to the Bering Strait theory, came to the Americas from Asia 20000 years ago.

And yet, and yet.

To me, my restlessness is more spiritual than physical. If it were physical, then why is my deepest sense of home located in India, instead of in Africa or Europe? Why is it that India, at least, a certain spot in India, that draws me like a magnet, so that, when I am there, I can say with all my being: Yes. This is it. This is home.
A Hindu might say that my soul remembers a past life; that before this birth, I lived in India; that this is the cause of that homing urge.

In the end, though, I believe that home is not a place. It is a state of mind. A sense of deep inner peace, unmoving, unchanging. And since it is within, it should be accessible wherever I am in the world.

One day, perhaps, I shall find that permanent inner home. And then I shall no longer move on.

This article has been taken from IBN Live

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