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Mooney: Are Conservatives Happier Than Liberals?

Conservatives tend to be just plain happier people than liberals are. That's seriously bad news for the left.

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Furthermore, the need for closure — for certainty, fixity — may underlie much else about the right. Kruglanski notes, for instance, that there’s a known relationship between closure and religiosity. “Religion or any comprehensive belief system is one that provides you answers to everything — and therefore belief and happiness,” he explains.

Finally, there is the related argument that the conservative tendency to rationalize politically or economically unequal social systems — to overlook how the other half is forced to live, either through simple dismissiveness, or affirmation of the fairness of free markets and meritocracies — also confers happiness. In his New York Times op-ed, Brooks dismissed this argument, associated with New York University social psychologist John Jost, but that’s not so easy to do. In a 2008 study in the journal Psychological Science, Jost and Jaime Napier showed that conservatives were happier than liberals in nine countries beyond the United States (including Germany, Spain and Sweden) — and further demonstrated, through statistical analyses, that the rationalization of inequality was a key part of the explanation. “Meritocratic beliefs account for the association between political orientation and subjective well-being to a significant degree,” wrote Napier and Jost.

The upshot of this research, to my mind, is that it provides a huge wake-up call to liberals who would dismiss conservatism, and their conservative brethren, without understanding this ideology’s appeal or what its adherents are getting out of it. Overall, the happiness research suggests that conservatism is giving something to people that liberalism is not — community, stability, certainty, and perhaps, in Jost’s words, an “emotional buffer” against all the unfairness in the world.

Knowing this, one still may not want the type of somnambulant happiness that conservatism conveys (I certainly don’t). But it would be foolhardy to mistake its appeal. The world is hard and cruel and perhaps, as predominantly liberal atheists suspect, ultimately meaningless. In this context, it appears, political conservatism is doing much more than political liberalism to get people through the day.

 

Chris Mooney is the author of four books, including "The Republican War on Science" (2005). His next book, "The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science—and Reality," is due out in April.

 
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