Are conservatives happier than liberals?

Evidence is mounting: conservatives are happier than liberals. Arthur Brooks, of the American Enterprise Institute, presents some reasons for this conclusion.…

Conservatives explain the data by pointing to life choices. More conservatives are married and conservatives practice religion to a greater extent. Marriage and being active in one’s religion are both correlated with being happy.

Liberals, Brooks writes, point to another explanation and that is that conservatives are essentially self-centered, tuning out the misery of the world around them. It is a matter of ignorance being bliss.

Brooks counters the liberal explanation by noting that conservatives, supporting capitalism, believe that the economic system is a good one and that “hard work and perseverance can usually overcome those disadvantages [of different initial opportunities].”

Brook’s article got me to think of a comment of Bertrand Russell, who said, “I’ve made an odd discovery. Every time I talk to a savant I feel quite sure that happiness is no longer a possibility. Yet when I talk with my gardener, I’m convinced of the opposite.”

The difference between conservatives being happier than liberals and servants being happier than scholars may have to do with various ideas of happiness.

Happiness can be understood as a mood state (what you are feeling) or it can be defined as a life-long experience (how you are in life). Using the second definition, it is possible to say that you are feeling miserable when asked how you are feeling but still experience your life as satisfying on a deep level.

In this regard, those who are embedded in mutually enhancing relationships are those who are happiest. They may or may not be happy at any given moment but over-all they find life meaningful, fulfilling and have a sense of flourishing.

So it isn’t surprising that those who report being in good, long-term marriages say they are happy. Nor is it surprising that those who are active in a religious community also report being happy.

But there is more to relationships than marriage and more to community than religion. Furthermore, both marriage and religion can be stultifying, not enriching.

Reports about the relationship between happiness and religion and marriage need to be read cautiously. To think that staying in a bad marriage is related to happiness is bogus; to think that not caring about the less fortunate can lead to a flourishing society is misguided.

Happiness isn’t simply about how an individual feels. It is about the over-all state of the world and how everyone in it can find a satisfying life. This is an ancient idea, so I guess that makes me a conservative. This understanding of happiness also includes social justice, so I guess that makes me a liberal.



One thought on “Are conservatives happier than liberals?

  1. As having been raised a Christian Fundamentalist, as well as hanging out among them in my 20s, I think it’s a mixed bag on which camp – religious or political – is happiest. However, I’m inclined to believe that overall it’s the religious & political conservatives who are happiest. They have a God that is available for them to turn to when they or a neighbor is struggling. Thus they don’t really “tune out” those who can’t seem to help themselves, they simply put it in God’s loving hands. Liberals who trust their minds more than the status quo have the opportunity to find contentment in other ways, e.g., meditation, but, I think, would rather remain in their heads by reading the N.Y. Times on Sunday mornings rather than go to an Ethical Society or other liberal-camp’s congregation. Too, we tend to be more introverted (or so I have heard) thus worthwhile interaction is hard to come by.

    My 2 cents.

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