NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 1, 2008

In America, conservatives are happier than liberals, concludes Arthur Brooks in his new book, "Gross National Happiness."

Other findings:

  • In 2004 Americans who called themselves "conservative" or "very conservative" were nearly twice as likely to tell pollsters they were "very happy" as those who considered themselves "liberal" or "very liberal" (44 percent versus 25 percent).
  • The data show that American conservatives have been consistently happier than liberals for at least 35 years.

This is not because they are richer; they are not.  Brooks thinks three factors are important:

  • Conservatives are twice as likely as liberals to be married and twice as likely to attend church every week.
  • Married, religious people are more likely than secular singles to be happy.
  • They are also more likely to have children, which makes Brooks confident that the next generation will be at least as happy as the current one.

When religious and political differences are combined, the results are striking:

  • Secular liberals are as likely to say they are "not too happy" as to say they are very happy (22 percent to 22 percent).
  • Religious conservatives are ten times more likely to report being very happy than not too happy (50 percent to 5 percent).
  • Religious liberals are about as happy as secular conservatives.

Why should this be so?  Brooks proposes that whatever their respective merits, the conservative world view is more conducive to happiness than the liberal one (in the American sense of both words).  American conservatives tend to believe that if you work hard and play by the rules, you can succeed.  This makes them more optimistic than liberals, more likely to feel in control of their lives and therefore happier.

Source: "The joys of parenthood; Why conservatives are happier than liberals," The Economist, March 27, 2008; and Arthur Brooks, "Gross National Happiness," Basic Books, April 7, 2008.

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