Why some of us are happy; others, not so much
© by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, January 5, 2012

"Political conservatives are happier than liberals ... this happiness gap is accounted for by specific attitude and personality differences associated with positive adjustment and mental health ... In four studies, conservatives expressed greater personal agency (e.g., personal control, responsibility), more positive outlook (e.g., optimism, self-worth), more transcendent moral beliefs (e.g., greater religiosity, greater moral clarity, less tolerance of transgressions), and a generalized belief in fairness, and these differences accounted for the happiness gap."

—Schlenker, B.R.; Chambers, J.R.; Le, B., "Conservatives are Happier Than Liberals, But Why? Political Ideology, Personality, and Life Satisfaction," Journal of Research in Personality, December 2011

Well, this new psychological study should set the tone for conservatives' enjoyment of this election year. I haven't yet read it myself, but I have noticed liberals within range of my attention seem more unhappy than usual lately, stepping up their personal attacks on conservatives as greedy, lacking in empathy or concern for others, deeply unethical, narrowly educated, immature, and — my favorite — driven by a "hideous fundamentalism."

Most of us simply describe liberals with the adjective "nuts" and get on with our day. For those who might like to expand on this, psychiatrist Lyle Rossiter wrote a book in 2006 called "The Liberal Mind, the Psychological Causes of Political Madness," in which he refers to "patterns of thinking ... that undermine the individual's efforts to cope with the challenges of adult life" and led to calls for Big Government to take care of us all.

Conservatives, at least fiscal conservatives, can be happy just living their own lives and letting other people live theirs. Sometimes it seems that liberals can't be happy unless they make the rest of us unhappy.

This week was supposed to be a triumph for those liberals as they forced us all to buy mercury-infested light bulbs. However, at the last minute, congressional Republicans refused to fund implementation of the ban on the old incandescent bulbs.


Just in case, my happy conservative friends have been stockpiling incandescents, and I myself found a package of four that are guaranteed to last 10 years. If the ban eventually goes through, we may have to smuggle them from China. Though, of course, to indulge in a less happy thought, we may be owned by China 10 years from now.

This seems a good place to quote Dr. Rossiter again: "There can be no rational compromise between the virtues of individualism and the destructiveness inherent in all forms of collectivism: in socialist, communism and fascism, in the madness of all cults, and in the persecution of infidels by radical religions."

I'm pretty sure I couldn't sustain my cheery attitude if I didn't have freedom — if I lived in a dictatorship, if I had to wear a chador and walk a respectful distance behind the men, if I couldn't escape from a religious cult into which I had wandered.

I don't understand how some conservatives can be truly happy if they resist the uniquely human fun of thinking independently and enjoying the wonders of science and rationality. The theory of evolution, for instance, delights me.

Nor can I imagine the con men responsible for the recent economic crisis being really happy people. Dishonesty of any kind must be an enemy of personal happiness.

However, I suspect happiness is mostly genetic. I've been happy for as long as I've known myself, and my mother always said I'm like my father, who enjoyed everything. I once wondered if some of his enjoyment came from having survived a childhood in foster homes where he had to fight for his share of the food and rarely received a Christmas present. As a result, everything he earned by working hard as an adult was tasted, relished and appreciated.

But eventually I learned that some others with similar childhoods became bitter, envious and sometimes criminal adults.

Nurture, as well as nature, must play a role, too. I think it's easier to be happy if you're not in debt, and I owe my present debt-free status to my dad's instructions never to borrow for anything nonessential.

This leads me to another uncomfortable thought: Is my country happy? Should my grandchildren, already owing almost $50,000 each toward the national debt, expect to be unhappy as adults, despite their good genes?

My dad's genes could explain why my son, who became a liberal at UMass Amherst, seems happy despite the unrealized "better world" of Barack Obama. Or perhaps some people become liberals just as a reaction to social conservatives who also often want to intrude on individual freedoms — as libertarians like me sometimes become more conservative to ally ourselves against the presently more threatening liberals.

For instance, I'd be open to a discussion of climate change if liberals didn't insist on addressing it with mercury in my light bulbs.

We should try to distinguish between happiness and the delusion that all is well when it's not.

Throughout some terrible periods in history, positive and courageous people had to fight for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, eventually creating the American Dream we must now defend.

Happy New Year, libertarians and fiscal conservatives. Liberals: Same to you, if you can be happy without forcing your unhappy agenda on me.

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and other Eagle Tribune newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette.

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