Thursday, December 15, 2011

Are Conservatives Happier Than Liberals?

In the old Freudian days therapists focused on the negative to the detriment of the positive.

They wanted to accentuate the negative and ignore the positive.

Then, one day cognitive psychologists, led by Martin Seligman, decided that the focus was wrong. No one was getting better by looking only at the dark side. So, they invented the field that is now called positive psychology.

They emphasize positive emotions, positive character traits, success and happiness.

Instead of seeing human life as an inexorable tragedy punctuated with a few bright spots, they redefined it as a constructive process mixed with a few setbacks.

And they reconstructed therapy to make it more constructive, more oriented toward success.

Now, new research from Prof. Jaime Napier of Yale University has taken this concept in a new direction. Napier has discovered that conservatives are generally more happy than liberals.

You see, you need not undergo an endless round of therapy. You can enhance your happiness by becoming more conservative.

I hope I didn’t just ruin your day.

PBS reported on Napier’s research:

If you follow the principles of positive psychology it makes sense that liberals would be unhappier than conservatives. 

Liberals are more focused on human misery. They obsess about everything that is wrong with society. They are constantly complaining about social injustice, income inequality, sexism, air pollution, and fracking.

While it is true that liberals want to eliminate all of those negatives, their preoccupation with everything that has gone wrong must be diminishing their happiness.

Conservatives think differently. They do not ignore problems, but they do not complain about them. They do not see America’s problems as identifying traits. They see them as aberrations.

Conservatives do not obsess about what is wrong with America; they see America as a great and exceptional nation that has provided a wealth of opportunity.  

According to the principles of positive psychology the person who sees the glass as half full is going to be happier than the person who sees the glass as half empty.

Napier explains it by saying that conservatives believe that the economy provides opportunity and rewards hard work. They believe that the system is mostly fair. They believe that people mostly succeed according to their merit.

Liberals tend to believe that life is unfair and that the system cannot rectify itself. They do not believe in markets. They insist that without regulators and bureaucrats, we would be living according to the law of the jungle.

Of course, it is a bit facile to divide people into these categories. Conservatives do know that the system is not always fair; if they are sensible they believe that it is mostly fair, that it tends to reward hard work and merit, not that it always and unfailingly does.

Most liberals do accept that the system is sometimes fair and just. For the most part, however, they know that the system is corrupt, geared to enrich the rich and immiserate the poor.

Conservatives see opportunity. They strive to profit from it. Liberals believe that they cannot win, unless they are the ones who are rigging the system.

I agree with Napier’s characterization of liberal and conservative belief systems, but I would like to offer a different concept, one that I have discussed before.

Some people see life as a game; others see it as theatre. If life is a game your actions affect the outcome. Playing a game makes you a moral agent, responsible for your successes and failures. It's empowering.

If the game is fair—most are—you know that you will be rewarded according to your actions and abilities.

The game might be rigged. Someone might be cheating. Someone might even be bending the rules. But, if the game is fair and everyone is playing by the same rules its outcomes are reliable. It’s a bit like a market.

If you have learned from the wrong kind of therapy that life is theatre, then your role is to follow the script. Since the script has been written out in advance, it will move inexorably toward a predetermined outcome, regardless of what you do.

If your life is scripted, you have little to gain by hard work. Why waste your energy trying to change the results when they have already been decided?

Let’s credit the positive psychologists with conceptualizing these differences. Now, we are waiting for them to conclude that people do not have to do therapy to be happy. They just need to become more conservative.


Dennis said...

One has to ask, "How can anyone spend most of their life yelling the sky is falling and not be miserable and unhappy?" If one looks at how the Left acts and what they say then they truly are the "Dark Side." There is not one issue that does not lend itself to leftist "The sky is falling" mantra.
That darkness of mind and spirit always leads to death of people, systems, et al as their solution. People are something that get categorized, controlled and used instead of allowed to be the individuals that they were born to be. The Left always know better.
One only has to look at the face of any Leftist and the ugliness that is always exhibited by their demeanor to see the darkness. Evil never respects the individual as capable of being a person of merit. Merit is in fact a dirty word to most Leftists. Thats why almost every issue is couched in class warfare rhetoric.
As a Conservative I can enjoy family, friends and the vast majority of life because I see good in them. This is impossible for most Leftists because individuals are basically bad and have to be push to the utopia that the Left desires but will never find. The selfishness denoted in that attitude always leads to despair because others will never be what you want to be unless one can remove them from existence. The left sees enemies and the right sees misguide individuals.

n.n said...

Conservative principles demonstrate better correlation with the natural and enlightened orders. They hold the potential to promote long-term viability of humanity and equally respect individual dignity. The latter realized through voluntary self-moderation of personal behavior, and not through totalitarian policies, other than to cope with the exceptional exhibition of deviant behavior.

Dennis said...

Here I make a real difference between Liberal and the Left as epitomized by Progressives, et al. I would posit that there are very few Liberals in the classical sense of the word on the Left. And most of them are now called neocons because the Left has moved the meaning so far to the Left in order to appear in the center to a citizenry that pays little attention to the meaning of words
At times I just wish people would stop calling those on the Left Liberals because they are NOT liberal. Also it is about time to stop calling Democrats that name because they are not at all democratic in any real sense of the word.