Thursday, July 19, 2012

Why are conservatives happier?

The New York Times has had a nice chunk of commentary on explanations for why many studies show people of conservative political persuasion report themselves to be happier than liberals. The article by Arthur Brooks who (red flag for Deric) is president of the American Enterprise Institute notes several common explanations based on lifestyle (marriage, faith)
Fifty-two percent of married, religious, politically conservative people (with kids) are very happy — versus only 14 percent of single, secular, liberal people without kids.
Some further clips from Brooks:
An explanation for the happiness gap more congenial to liberals is that conservatives are simply inattentive to the misery of others...conservatives do indeed see the free enterprise system in a sunnier light than liberals do, believing in each American’s ability to get ahead on the basis of achievement. Liberals are more likely to see people as victims of circumstance and oppression, and doubt whether individuals can climb without governmental help. other noteworthy political happiness gap that has gotten less scholarly attention than conservatives versus liberals: moderates versus extremists...People at the extremes are happier than political moderates. Correcting for income, education, age, race, family situation and religion, the happiest Americans are those who say they are either “extremely conservative” (48 percent very happy) or “extremely liberal” (35 percent). Everyone else is less happy, with the nadir at dead-center “moderate” (26 percent)...What explains this odd pattern? One possibility is that extremists have the whole world figured out, and sorted into good guys and bad guys. They have the security of knowing what’s wrong, and whom to fight. They are the happy warriors.
A followup in a "Letters to the Editor" piece contains a number of comments:
"Much research implies that happiness depends on brain chemistry (the pharmaceutical industry thinks so) and might, to some extent, be hard-wired. So maybe happiness makes us conservative, not vice versa...It’s logical that happy Americans would be suspicious of change: that they’d be conservative. And that unhappy Americans, wanting to feel happier, would prefer change: that they’d be liberal...Or maybe some unhappy Americans are unhappy because America is relatively conservative: that conservatism by some breeds unhappiness in others. The happiest countries (according to the World Happiness Report, Denmark, Norway, Finland and the Netherlands) are more liberal than America...Presumably, many people manage to be both happy and liberal, at least by our standards."
"I agree with Arthur C. Brooks that conservatives may be happier than liberals. A parallel may be found in the French society of the 18th century...Versailles and its gardens may testify to the splendor of life for the French aristocrats; similarly, the palaces in St. Petersburg may testify to the sense of well-being among the Russian nobility. This contentment could not have existed without some of the clergy encouraging the aristocrats to enjoy their status and not be concerned with the misery of the lower classes...We know how huge upheavals put an end to this obliviousness, but history is replete with lessons not learned."
"Arthur C. Brooks argues that conservatives are happier than liberals in part because of their emphasis on faith... But the emphasis on faith-based “knowledge” among some conservatives has led to an unwillingness to accept reality. Some deny evolution, or that global warming exists, or that bank misbehavior was a major cause of the Great Recession, and so on...The denial or ignorance of these depressing facts might well explain some of the conservative bliss."
"... “Don’t Indulge. Be Happy,” by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton (Sunday Review, July 8), tells us that once you have reached $75,000 a year, earning more doesn’t really make you happier...It may be that “conservatives are happier than liberals” because they are more likely to have reached that $75,000 income level."


  1. It would be interesting to do the analysis in a country currently undergoing upheaval. I bet conservatives in Syria are not too happy right now...


    Isn't it also possible to consider that being more intelligent inherently leads to unhappiness ?

  3. Thanks for the further references!