February 14, 2008 Leave a comment
In the I've been meaning to blog about this and can't seem to get around to it category, is a really interesting article from this past Sunday's post about partisan differences in happiness. Some highlights:
A 2006 Pew Research poll found that 45 percent of Republicans describe
themselves as “very happy,” compared with only 30 percent of Democrats
(and 29 percent of independents). This is a sizable gap and a
remarkably consistent one, too. Republicans have been happier than
Democrats every year since the General Social Survey, conducted
biannually by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of
Chicago, began asking about happiness in 1972.
What to make of this finding? Is there something about being a
card-carrying member of the GOP that induces a warm, fuzzy feeling, a
sort of political Prozac? Or does the river of causality flow in the
other direction: Are happy people more likely to become Republicans
than Democrats? Or maybe neither explanation holds water and it only appears as if Republicans are happier than Democrats…
Basically, Republicans have in spades all the things that combine to
make us happy. Church attendance is particularly crucial. People who
attend religious services regularly are more likely to report being
“very happy” than those who don't — 43 percent vs. 26 percent (a
happiness boost, by the way, that cuts across all the major religious
denominations). In addition, Republicans are more likely to be married
than Democrats, and married people are happier than singles.
When I tell my liberal friends about Republican happiness, they
usually reply angrily — angry not being a happy trait. “They're just
not paying attention,” one friend snapped. “Ignorance is bliss,” said
another. Or perhaps it's what Ralph Waldo Emerson said, putting it more
eloquently and less angrily: “God offers to every mind its choice
between truth and repose. Take which you please — you can never have
I don't know whether Democrats follow world events more closely than
Republicans, but they are, on average, better educated, and that might
explain their glumness. People with advanced degrees report being less
happy than those with only a bachelor's.
There is something to be said for the under-examined life.
Psychologists have found that when it comes to maximizing contentment,
a little bit of self-deception goes a long way. Happy people remember
events more rosily than they actually happened, while the morose
remember the past accurately.
If this isn't depressing enough for liberals, it turns out that some
of their own pet policies are to blame for their unhappiness. Once in
power, Democrats tend to focus on issues that, according to the science
of happiness, have little effect on our contentment — income equality,
for instance, and racial diversity. Neither is linked to greater
happiness. Countries with large disparities between rich and poor are
no less happy than more egalitarian ones, studies have found. And the
happiest countries in the world tend to be homogenous ones, such as
Denmark and Iceland, not the ethnic melting pots that liberals
I consider myself lucky to be a very happy person (and I guess especially lucky, since I'm a liberal Democrat). I'd like to think this does not arise primarily from self deception (and credit genes and a great family)– what could be more self deceptive than convincing yourself that George Bush is a good president, the Iraq War makes sense, and Republicans actually have decent ideas for domestic policies.