Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

NY Times: Conservatives Are Happier Than Liberals. Discuss.

Following up on my previous post, The Secret To A Happy And Meaningful Life: Choose Suffering:  New York Times op-ed:  Conservatives Are Happier Than Liberals. Discuss., by  Thomas B. Edsall:

Do liberals or conservatives experience higher levels of satisfaction, happiness or meaning in life? Is the left or the right more inclined to intolerance, bigotry or conspiratorial thinking? Are Democrats or Republicans more loyal to family and friends?

A wide range of scholars in a variety of disciplines are asking these questions and taking them seriously. Ultimately, though, this line of inquiry raises an even broader question: whether liberals and conservatives function on fundamentally different moral planes.

Two similarly titled papers with markedly disparate conclusions illustrate the range of disagreement on this subject. “Why Are Conservatives Happier Than Liberals?” by Jaime Napier of N.Y.U. in Abu Dhabi and John Jost of N.Y.U., and “Conservatives Are Happier Than Liberals, but Why?” by Barry R. Schlenker and John Chambers, both of the University of Florida, and Bonnie Le of the University of Rochester. ...

A 2018 paper, “Conservatives Report Greater Meaning in Life Than Liberals,” by David B. Newman of the University of California-San Francisco, Norbert Schwarz and Arthur Stone of the University of Southern California, and Jesse Graham of the University of Utah, contends that across five studies

conservatives reported more meaning and purpose in life than liberals at each reporting period. This finding remained significant after adjusting for religiosity and was usually stronger than the relationships involving other well-being measures.

In an email, Newman provided some explanation: “Conservatism on social issues (e.g., abortion and same-sex marriage) was a stronger predictor of meaning in life, whereas conservatism on economic issues (e.g., free markets) was a stronger predictor of life satisfaction.”

A reason for this, Newman continued, is that

one of the key ingredients to a meaningful life is a sense of coherence. If you can make sense of life’s events and if they seem to hang together in a consistent manner, you’ll find more meaning and purpose in life. Conservatives’ value for stability and their resistance to change could contribute to the coherence that provides them with meaning in life.

Newman argued that since “family ties and a strong sense of community and connectedness are key ingredients for a meaningful life,” it is possible that “if liberal agendas and ideologies inhibit social bonds and connections, it could lower people’s sense of meaning and purpose.”

It’s hardly surprising that there are scholars who disagree with the idea that conservatives experience a more satisfying sense of life’s meaning than liberals. ...

What, then, can be drawn from these conflicting analyses?

First, be wary of the conclusion that conservatives are happier than liberals and that they find greater meaning in life.

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