by Jay Johansen | Jun 9, 2020
I've seen a number of surveys and studies that find that conservatives are happier than liberals. Just for example, here's one: https://www.dailysignal.com/2018/07/13/study-conservatives-are-happier-than-liberals/ .
Of course you can't objectively measure happiness. It's not like we can take out some high-tech measurement device, point it at a person, and say, "Oh, he's 6.329 happy". All you can do is ask people how happy they are by some vague general scale, like "very happy, somewhat happy", etc down to "very unhappy". But still, happiness is a subjective thing. If someone thinks that he is happy, then by definition he is happy. Even if you would say, "Wow, if I was in his circumstances I wouldn't be happy" ... so what?
So let's take the subjects of these studies at their word and accept that conservatives are generally happier than liberals. That leads to the obvious question, Why? I've seen many of these studies that speculate about the reaons why, but none that I've seen appear to have taken the obvious step of asking the subjects. Instead of just asking people "Are you happy or not?" and then speculating why they might answer the way they do, why not just ask them why?
So in the absence of evidence, I'll add my own speculation. As I always say, Speculating wildly is so much easier than doing research and collecting evidence!
So here's my theory: Step 1, preliminary assertion (a lemma, my mathematical side wants to call it): A fundamental difference between conservatives and liberals is that conservatives generally believe that what happens to you in life is mostly the result of your own decisions, good or bad. Liberals generally believe that what happens to you in life is mostly the result of large-scale social forces. Conservatives call this "taking personal responsibility". Liberals call it "blaming the victim". For example, if someone is poor, a conservative tends to think "he doen't work hard enough". A liberal tends to think, "he is a victim of discrimination".
Of course neither side would say it is 100%. Conservatives don't deny that some people are victims and liberals don't deny all personal responsibility. If a racist cop beats up an innocent black person for no good reason, a conservative will agree with a liberal that the black person is a victim, and a liberal will agree with a conservative that the racist cop should be held responsible. But in general, conservatives think most of the good that happens to you is because of good decisions you made and most of the bad is because of bad decisions, while liberals think that most of the good and bad that happens to you is because of forces beyond your control. Right? I'm not proposing some radical new idea here. This is pretty standard stuff.
But now think of the implications for personal happiness in life. If you believe in the conservative view, then it follows that if you are unhappy with your life, it is totally within your power to fix it. You just have to make the effort. Do you want more money? Than work harder. Do you want a better marriage? Then take steps to improve it. Etc. But if you believe in the liberal view, then you are a helpless victim and there's nothing you can do to improve your life except to beg your oppressor's to relent or to beg someone else to rescue you. To the conservative, most problems can be fixed if you just work at it. To the liberal, there is nothing you can do to fix your problems. All you can do is hope that someone else will fix it for you.
Some believe that the liberal view is comforting, because it means that you are not to blame. If you have problems, it's someone else's fault. But how comforting is that, really? Because if the problems are someone else's fault, then the solutions are up to someone else too. There is nothing you can do to fix your problems. Oh, you can vote for the right party, but even if you do they may not win, and even if they win they may be caught up in the same corruption you voted for them to fight. At best, once every few years you can spend an hour or so casting a vote, and then you're back to sitting and waiting for someone to rescue you. That sounds pretty depressing to me.
© 2020 by Jay Johansen
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