NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 2, 2006

While Democrats, the poor and minorities often feel cynical about the economy and politics, this pessimistic thinking yields benefits, says Rosa Brooks of the University of Virginia. A recent survey shows that a smaller percentage of Democrats and families making less than $30,000 feel "very happy" compared to Republicans and families making over $100,000.

However, some psychologists insist negative attitudes encourage success, says Brooks. Unhappy people, she explains, are more likely to:

  • Think through each problem on a case-by-case basis, versus happy people who rely on stereotypes to hurry them through decisions.
  • Handle new, unique or complex challenges better than the happy people, who make cognitive errors and simplistic assumptions.
  • Analyze more frequently and thoroughly than happy people.
  • Excel in jobs where constant vigilance for possible problems is absolutely essential.

Pyschologists' conclusion: Pessimism hurts or helps, depending on the situation. For instance, choose a pessimist when monitoring a nuclear power plant, reconstructing Iraq or leading the Free World, says Brooks.

Source: Rosa Brooks, "Rosa Brooks: If You're Happy and You Know It, You're Probably a Conservative," Dallas Morning News, February, 27, 2006.


Browse more articles on Government Issues