Happier on the Right?

December 16, 2013
Posted by Jay Livingston

The Times gave Arthur Brooks pride of place yesterday – nearly all of the front page of the Sunday Review section – for his “formula for happiness” (here). The formula is a variation on Freud’s “Lieben und Arbeiten” (love and work). Brooks’s version seems to be Conservatism und Arbeiten. Working mostly from GSS data, Brooks first notes sex differences ( women’s edge in happiness is diminishing). The second variable he cites is political views.
 conservative women are particularly blissful: about 40 percent say they are very happy.

In fact, the cumulative GSS data from 1972 to 2012 support this idea.

(Click on a graph for a larger view.)

As we go from left to right (politically and on the graph) the percentage of happy women rises.

Why might political views correlate with happiness? Brooks doesn’t say, but later in his formula he cites the importance of work, of being satisfied with your job. (“I’m a living example of the happiness vocation can bring.”) People who are dissatisfied in the world of work will not be happy in general. The same logic applies to politics – those who are dissatisfied in the political world will also not be happy in general.  So maybe the link between conservatism and happiness is really about who is satisfied with the political status quo.  Who is happy will depend on whose status is quo.

For most of those GSS years since 1972, conservatives have felt right at home politically.  But the election and re-election of Obama – despite a huge recession, despite a supposedly much-hated healthcare law – changed that status quo.  Hence all the conservative talk about taking their country back.*  And what has  happened since then to those sunny female conservatives?  If you confine the data to 2008-2012, you see that the shoe of unhappiness is on the other foot – the right, and especially the far-right, foot.**

The far left and far right are equally “very happy,” and in the “not too happy” category, very conservative women outnumber their liberal sisters nearly two to one.

(Brooks devotes most of the rest of his formula to work. I’ll have more to say about that tomorrow.)

* For more on the taking our country back, see my Repo Men post from three and a half years ago.

** I made this same point in July 2012 (here) when the Times published Arthur Brooks making the same claim, though without the added variable of sex. But if Brooks and the Times are going to keep publishing this idea, I’m going keep blogging the evidence.

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