Happiness and political affiliation!

Happiness and political affiliation!

Although obviously a very “American” story there are some very interesting happiness-related points made in this article.

Why Republicans Are So Darn Happy

By Eric Weiner

Saturday, February 9, 2008; 6:50 PM

After virtually ignoring happiness for more than 100 years, social scientists are making up for lost time. They’re churning out hundreds of research papers on the subject each year. There are happiness conferences, a Journal of Happiness Studies, a World Database of Happiness. Happy, you might say, is the new sad.

All of this cogitating about contentment has revealed much about who’s supposedly happy and who isn’t. Most studies show that wealthy people are marginally happier than poor ones. People with pets or children are no happier than those without. People with active sex lives are — surprise! — happier than those without. No single morsel of happiness data, though, is more intriguing than this: Republicans are happier than Democrats.

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.

The most obvious place to look for an explanation is, of course, with money. Wealthy people are marginally happier than poor ones, and Republicans, according to some surveys, tend to be wealthier than Democrats, so that must be why they’re happier, right? Nice try, but no dice. Even after adjusting for differences in income, the Pew researchers still found a marked happiness gap: Poor Republicans are, on average, happier than poor Democrats, and wealthy Republicans are happier than wealthy Democrats.

Maybe the answer is power. Republicans have controlled the White House for most of the past 35 years, and nothing spells happiness like p-o-w-e-r. Wrong again. Republican bliss persists even if a Democrat — be it Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton — resides in the White House.

You can practically hear the researchers at Pew scratching their liberal heads. They put the findings through a rigorous process called multiple-regression analysis in an attempt to isolate the relevant variables. But try as they might, they could not wash that Republican happiness out of their hair.

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 both.”

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 celebrate.

In any event, Republicans are happy, and that, of course, is a very American thing to be, or at least to strive to be. We Americans have a complex relationship with happiness. Yes, it’s in our founding document, but it is perennially elusive, just out of our grasp — a sad fact that Alexis de Tocqueville observed in the 1830s, when he noted that the United States was populated by ‘so many lucky men restless in the midst of abundance.”

We suffer from what the historian Darrin McMahon calls “the unhappiness of not being happy.” It is a uniquely American malady. For us, happiness is not a blessing but an expectation.

And we expect it from our politicians. The more optimistic candidate won nine of the 10 elections from 1948 to 1984, according to Martin Seligman, the pooh-bah of the positive-psychology movement. More recent elections have been spottier, but the pattern holds: All things being equal, voters choose the more optimistic candidate.

This may explain why Republicans have dominated presidential elections in the past 40 or so years. They, of course, have as their happy standard-bearer Ronald Reagan, who smilingly urged us to ask ourselves if we were better off (read: happier) than we’d been four years earlier. On the Democrats’ side, John F. Kennedy knew how to play the happiness card, but most of his would-be followers haven’t. Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, John Kerry (Jimmy Carter, too, even though he managed to win an election): Happiness does not come to mind when you think of these people. Only Bill Clinton, with his “bridge to the 21st century” and his “Third Way” (part Democratic technocrat, part Republican mirth), managed to break through the happiness barrier.

So while you might think that the 2008 presidential election hinges on Iraq or the economy or change vs. experience, it doesn’t. The real issue — the meta issue — is, as usual, happiness. Which candidate can best convince voters that if elected, he or she will increase their happiness? Which candidate actually seems the happiest, or at least the most optimistic?

Seligman and his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania have tried to answer that question scientifically, analyzing speeches and other statements by the candidates and assigning each an optimism score. He found that, among Democratic candidates, Hillary Rodham Clinton, not Barack Obama, is the most optimistic. On the Republican side, John McCain and Mitt Romney are equally optimistic, though of course that didn’t save the former Massachusetts governor.

Being optimistic helps candidates in two ways. Optimists are able to persevere in times of adversity, so perhaps optimistic candidates are elected because they’re able to weather setbacks during the grueling primary season. But there is also, of course, something about an optimistic candidate that voters find irresistible. Psychologists have found that we tend to like more positive people — no surprise there — so that might explain why we vote for the more optimistic candidate.

These days, putting on a happy face doesn’t always come naturally for Democrats, but it wasn’t always that way. On April 27, 1968, Hubert Humphrey announced his presidential candidacy. It was a troubled time for Americans, coming just three weeks after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination and in the midst of antiwar protests. Yet Humphrey, known as the Happy Warrior, chose to strike an uber-optimistic tone: “Here we are, the way politics ought to be in America, the politics of happiness, the politics of purpose, the politics of joy, and that’s the way it’s going to be, all the way, too, from here on out.”

Unfortunately, it didn’t exactly turn out that way. Within six weeks, Robert F. Kennedy was dead and the nation was seething. For Humphrey, the politics of joy never translated into the joy of victory.

Nowadays, politicians are hesitant to explicitly utter the H-word, choosing instead to dance around the subject. It’s only a matter of time, though, before Republicans begin to crow about their happiness. “They can say, ‘Look, I’m not being a stuffy, old-fashioned conservative,’ ” says Will Wilkinson, a policy analyst with the libertarian Cato Institute. “There is real science that shows that if you go to church, if you don’t get divorced, you’ll be happier. That’s tempting to any politician.”

There is, though, an exception to the Happy Republicans trend. More Democrats than Republicans say they’re excited about the current election, according to an Associated Press-Yahoo News survey conducted in November, and Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say that the election season leaves them frustrated and bored. Might Democrats be on the verge of transforming themselves into the party of happiness? If so, that would be the ultimate flip-flop.

erweiner@gmail.com

Eric Weiner is the author of “The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World.”