Wednesday, May 22, 2024

The Happiness Gap Between Left and Right

 I want to pass on a few clips from a recent Thomas Edsall essay, followed by a condensed version of the longer piece provided by Chat GPT 4:

Why is it that a substantial body of social science research finds that conservatives are happier than liberals?...psychologists and other social scientists have begun to dig deeper into the underpinnings of liberal discontent — not only unhappiness but also depression and other measures of dissatisfaction.
One of the findings emerging from this research is that the decline in happiness and in a sense of agency is concentrated among those on the left who stress matters of identity, social justice and the oppression of marginalized groups.
There is, in addition, a parallel phenomenon taking place on the right as Donald Trump and his MAGA loyalists angrily complain of oppression by liberals who engage in a relentless vendetta to keep Trump out of the White House.
There is a difference in the way the left and right react to frustration and grievance. Instead of despair, the contemporary right has responded with mounting anger, rejecting democratic institutions and norms.

Here is my edited version of a Chat GPT4 4-fold condensation of Edsall's essay: 

…surveys have consistently shown that those on the right of the political spectrum enjoy a higher self-reported sense of happiness compared to their counterparts on the left. The reasons are as complex as they are intriguing.

Conservatives tend to view the social and economic systems as just and fair, where hard work is rewarded and natural hierarchies are maintained. This perspective shields them from much of the anger or dissatisfaction that might arise from witnessing social or economic inequalities. They see market outcomes and social stratifications as generally fair and based on merit, which fosters a sense of contentment or acceptance of their circumstances.

On the other hand, liberals are more likely to perceive social and economic systems as flawed or unfair, nurturing a sense of injustice and dissatisfaction. This ideological stance makes them more sensitive to the inequities and imperfections of society, which can manifest as frustration, sadness, or a pervasive sense of being wronged. The liberal focus on social justice, equity, and the protection of marginalized groups, while morally compelling, can also be a source of continuous discontent and agitation as these goals are often far from being realized.

Recent psychological research has started to probe deeper into these disparities, shifting the focus from documenting differences to understanding their underlying causes. This body of work suggests that the liberal emphasis on identity and the systemic oppression of marginalized groups can sometimes lead to a feeling of disempowerment. By defining themselves in terms of victimhood and systemic barriers, liberals might inadvertently undermine their sense of personal agency, which is closely linked to psychological well-being.

The current political climate, especially with the rise of Donald Trump and his brand of populism, has also highlighted a stark difference in how frustration and grievance are expressed across the political spectrum. While liberals might internalize their discontent, leading to despair and dejection, many conservatives have channeled their frustrations into anger and defiance. This is exemplified by the significant number of Republicans who view Democrats not just as political opponents, but as outright enemies, and who believe in the necessity of strong, even authoritarian leadership to preserve their way of life.

This divergence in emotional response is not without consequences. As observed in various studies and polls, more than twice as many Republicans as Democrats believe that extreme measures, including violence, might be necessary to protect the nation from its leaders. This growing acceptance of force and the bending of democratic norms and institutions reflect a profound shift in conservative sentiment, fueled by perceived threats to their traditional values and way of life.

The implications of these ideological and psychological divides extend beyond mere political debates to affect the very fabric of individual well-being. Scholars like Jamin Halberstadt and Timothy A. Judge argue that a focus on systemic injustices and an external locus of control can significantly dampen happiness and self-esteem. Liberals, with their emphasis on the collective and the structural, might find themselves feeling powerless and disillusioned, while conservatives, with their focus on individualism and personal accountability, maintain a more optimistic and empowered outlook.

Moreover, the phenomenon of concept creep, as discussed by Nick Haslam, illustrates another layer of complexity. This expansion of definitions around harm and abuse, often driven by liberal ideologies, has increased sensitivity to various issues, which while raising awareness, also intensifies feelings of vulnerability and injustice. This heightened sensitivity can lead to an atmosphere where free speech and expression are more heavily scrutinized, further complicating the landscape of political and social discourse.

In conclusion, the happiness gap between conservatives and liberals is a multifaceted issue that reflects deeper ideological beliefs and psychological orientations. While conservatives may find comfort in a worldview that sees the social order as just and self-determined, liberals' commitment to challenging this order and addressing systemic injustices, though noble, may paradoxically contribute to their own discontent. This dynamic interplay between ideology and well-being underscores the profound impact of our political beliefs on our personal lives, shaping not only how we view the world but also how we experience it.



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