Why are conservatives happier than liberals?

The Big Happiness Story Last Week on all the North American sites is the study showing that conservatives are happier than liberals.

Actually the research shows that people with extreme political views tend to be happier than moderates, so the Occupy Wall Street people are happier than those of us who are more moderate in our criticisms of banks and capitalism.  This response to the story in blog post Are Conservatives Happier? brings out some of the more likely reasons why conservatives might be happier than liberals.  And discovers that the happiest man in America is

Alvin Wong. He is a 5-foot-10, 69-year-old, Chinese-American, Kosher-observing Jew, who’s married with children and lives in Honolulu. He runs his own health care management business and earns more than $120,000 a year.

The story has stayed live stateside this week.  In his post Mooney: Are Conservatives Happier Than Liberals? Chris Mooney references social psychologist Arie Kruglanski’s research that found…

Conservatives are uncomfortable with ambiguity and prefer to seize on and hold fixed beliefs and views and offers this thoughtful response: The upshot of this research, to my mind, is that it provides a huge wake-up call to liberals who would dismiss conservatism, and their conservative brethren, without understanding this ideology’s appeal or what its adherents are getting out of it. Overall, the happiness research suggests that conservatism is giving something to people that liberalism is not — community, stability, certainty, and perhaps, in Jost’s words, an “emotional buffer” against all the unfairness in the world…It would be foolhardy to mistake its appeal.  The world is cruel and hard and perhaps, as predominantly atheists suspect, ultimately meaningless.  In this context, it appears, political conservatism is doing much more than political liberalism to get people through the day.

This story has been pretty much ignored in the UK press, despite its potential relevance for us here, and  Happiness – The Mortal Enemy; Part 1 Politics contributes this to the discussion:

Liberalism is an empirical philosophy: for liberals, trust, approval, and respect for the establishment must always be earned and can be taken away at any point. Conservatism is an instinctive philosophy: if a person is part of the group or establishment worth conserving, then a large degree of approval, respect, and trust must be given automatically. It is not a question of conservatives being authoritarian and liberals being meritocratic, it is a question conservatives tending towards belief, and liberals tending towards doubt.

Here’s what the original Harvard study said:

In three studies using nationally representative data from the United States and nine additional countries, we found that right-wing (vs. left-wing) orientation is indeed associated with greater subjective well-being and that the relation between political orientation and subjective well-being is mediated by the rationalization of inequality. In our third study, we found that increasing economic inequality (as measured by the Gini index) from 1974 to 2004 has exacerbated the happiness gap between liberals and conservatives, apparently because conservatives (more than liberals) possess an ideological buffer against the negative hedonic effects of economic inequality.

In Who’s Got the Lock on Happiness? you can read a selection of responses Letters to the Editor in The New York Times.

Meanwhile a new Obama story is just breaking – concerning this quote from a speech Obama gave this week…

“If you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. … If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” — Barack Obama

The right-wing critique  Obama considers individual pursuit of happiness a mirage –  suggests that the President draws on a kind of conservative energy in his progressive intellectualism…

the idea of the “moral equivalent of war” as a means of inciting citizens to drop their personal priorities and rally around the state for a government-defined “cause larger than themselves.” 

Sara Ahmed’s The Promise of Happiness maintains that happiness is a promise that directs us toward certain life choices and away from others. Happiness is promised to those willing to live their lives in the right way, and makes us realise that happiness can bring with a duty to conform to the status quo. Part of Ahmed’s exploration draws from Mill on the Floss

Phillip loves Maggie and gives her books that rekindle her sense of interest and curiosity about the world.  He gives he gives her one book that she cannot finish as she reads in this book the injustice of happiness, which is given to some and not to others, those deemed worthy of love…

We could describe happiness as a convention, such that to deviate from the paths of happiness is to challenge convention.  The word convention comes from the verb “to convene” which is to gather, to assemble, or to meet up.  A convention is a point around which we gather.  to follow a convention is to follow in the right way. Feminism gives time and space to women’s desires that are not assembled around the reproduction of the family form…  The word feminism is thus saturated with unhappiness.  Feminists are [automatically] read as destroying something that is thought by others not only as being good but as the cause of happiness.  The feminist killjoy “spoils” the happiness of others because she refuses to convene, to assemble, or to meet up over happiness.

We might say exactly the same for liberals.

For the full research report see Why are conservatives happier than liberals?

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One thought on “Why are conservatives happier than liberals?

  1. Pingback: Happiness At Work 3 ~ a route map to edition three | performance~marks

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