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PURETICS...

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Interesting Findings And World Unfolding Through My Eyes.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Gross National Happiness

Who’s happier, on average — conservatives or liberals? This is a major theme in my new book, and I’m going to post on this question here for a few weeks.

Several years ago I would have told you that liberals have the happiness edge. Regardless of our personal political views, when most academics like me think of an “average conservative,” I have found we tend to conjure up an image of something like the American Gothic: grim, puritanical, and humorless.

Until relatively recently it seemed that the evidence more or less backed up this impression. For example, in one study in the Journal of Research in Personality, Berkeley researchers traced the political ideology and world view of people in their early twenties back to the personalities they had exhibited as toddlers — recorded by their preschool two decades earlier.

The “liberal” young men had these principal traits as babies: resourcefulness in initiating activities, independence and autonomy, and pride in accomplishments. Liberal young women had similarly happy characteristics. In contrast, as babies the conservatives had been easily offended, immobilized under stress, brooding and worried, and suspicious of others. Conservative young women had cried the most easily.

There are a few reasons one might take issue with the study’s conclusions:

All of the study participants, for instance, lived in the San Francisco Bay Area (which by itself would make a conservative of any age emotionally rigid and prone to weeping). But this study reinforced the stereotype that conservatives are naturally less happy than liberals.

What the actual data on self-assessed happiness show, however, is that conservatives have a substantial happiness edge, at least by the time they grow up.

For three decades, the General Social Survey has asked a nationwide sample of adults, “Taken all together, how happy would you say you are these days? Would you say that you are very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy?” Here is a representative sample of the results:

• In 2004, 44 percent of respondents who said they were “conservative” or “very conservative” said they were “very happy,” versus just 25 percent of people who called themselves “liberal” or “very liberal.” (Note that this comparison uses unweighted data — when the data are weighted, the gap is 46 percent to 28 percent.)

• Adults on the political right are only half as likely as those on the left to say, “At times, I think I am no good at all.” They are also less likely to say they are dissatisfied with themselves, that they are inclined to feel like a failure, or to be pessimistic about their futures.

• It doesn’t matter who holds political power. The happiness gap between conservatives and liberals has persisted for at least 30 years. Indeed, the difference was greater some years under Bill Clinton than it was under George W. Bush. Democrats may very well win the presidency in 2008, and no doubt many liberals will enjoy seeing conservatives grieving out about that — but the data say that conservatives will still be happier people than liberals.

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