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New Book: Conservatives Happier Than Liberals

Ronald Kessler By Tuesday, 13 May 2008 03:57 PM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

Conservatives are happier than liberals, according to a new book by Arthur C. Brooks.

“You find that all the way back to the early 1970s, as long as we’ve been keeping data on the subject, conservatives have consistently shown greater life satisfaction than liberals,” Brooks tells Newsmax.

In one study, people who identified themselves as conservative were nearly twice as likely to say they were very happy as people who said they are liberal.

In contrast, Brooks says, “Liberals are less likely to be optimistic about the future, and they’re more likely to say they feel like a failure.”

The question is, why?

About half the reason conservatives are happier than liberals is that they are more likely to attend a house of worship or be married. Such people tend to be happier anyway.

How we see things accounts for the rest of the difference, says Brooks, whose “Gross National Happiness: Why Happiness Matters to America and How We Can Get More of It” just came out. “Conservatives have a more optimistic, hopeful worldview,” he says.

Conservatives are not happier because they have more money. In fact, they are not necessarily better off financially than liberals.

Moreover, money doesn’t necessarily make us happier, says Brooks, who is a Louis A. Bantle professor of business and government policy at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and Whitman School of Management.

What does makes a difference is how money is acquired.

“Money correlates with a personal sense of success, and success buys happiness,” Brooks says. “But if you take two people and they feel equally successful, but one makes four times as much money as the other, they’ll be equally happy. So money per se doesn’t buy happiness, and it brings virtually no gain at all in life satisfaction unless it’s earned. It’s the earning part that makes all the difference, because that’s when you feel like you create value.”

Hitting the lottery buys happiness temporarily.

“Six months later, people who have won a lottery don’t get any enjoyment from hanging out with friends or cooking or watching TV like they used to, and they’re getting no happiness from the money, either,” Brooks says. “So it’s a mixed blessing to inherit money or hit the lottery.”

The only way money buys happiness is when people give it away.

“I tell people they can buy happiness by writing a check for $1,000 to their church or synagogue or favorite charity,” he says.

The trickier question is why conservatives — who are about the same as Republicans when it comes to outlook — are happier than liberals. About 50 percent of the differences between liberals and conservatives stem from genetically inherited personality traits. The rest of the difference has to do with worldview.

“Generally speaking, conservatives come in two kinds: those that have conservative political beliefs throughout their lives, and those that adopt them by about the time they are in their early 30s,” Brooks says. “And you find the people who adopt conservative beliefs rather than grow up with them are people with more education. They grow up in a liberal household and are more likely to go to college. When people go to college, when people have more opportunities in life, when they become more hopeful, they get happier, and at the same time they’re getting more conservative.”

The rest of the explanation for why liberals are not as happy as conservatives has to do with freedom.

“What you find is that freedom, including economic freedom, religious freedom, and political freedom, push happiness up hugely,” Brooks says, “But more voluntary personal freedom about morality drives happiness down.”

Thus, if the government limits moral freedom, it reduces happiness because it limits political freedom. “But what you find is when people voluntarily limit their own moral freedom by saying they think premarital sex is wrong, taking drugs is wrong, or abortion is wrong, they’re much happier people,” says Brooks, a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

The most difficult question is whether people who tend to be happier become conservatives or the other way around.

“People, as they get conservative, get happier, and as they get happier, they also get more conservative,” Brooks says. “They get happier as they get more conservative because they adopt a worldview that says that things are possible through hard work, and that mobility is not just a hollow promise.”

Brooks says the fact that conservatives are by nature more self-reliant is an important factor.

“It’s unseemly for conservatives to say, Woe is me; I’m a victim; the world’s oppressing me,” he says. “Conservatives aren’t supposed to say that. One of the fundamental tenets of the conservative character is to strike out on your own, to try to chase after your own fate. Just doing that will make you happier. You’re also more likely to become a successful person if you take that course.”

9/11 Memorial $5 Million Short

Barbara Olson had it all: brains, beauty, wit, a devoted husband, loving friends. The lawyer, author, and conservative TV commentator died on Sept 11, 2001 when her hijacked plane, American Airlines Flight 77, crashed into the Pentagon at more than 500 miles per hour. She was just 45.

Now Olson and 183 others who died that day at the Pentagon will be remembered with a memorial that opens on Sept. 11. President Bush will preside at the ceremony.

On the south side of the Pentagon, 165 feet from the crash site, the memorial consists of 184 cantilevered stainless steel benches with the engraved name of each victim. The 2,000 pound benches cascade over individual pools of water. The benches are arranged on the 1.93-acre site by the age of each victim, leading one of Olson’s friends to joke, “Barbara would have a fit!”

The Pentagon Memorial Fund Executive Committee includes such figures as former FBI and CIA Director William H. Webster and former chairs of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard B. Myers and H. Hugh Shelton. But, having raised $17 million, the fund is short $5 million of its construction goal. An additional $10 million endowment is needed to maintain the memorial.

Donations may be made by calling 202-237-0327 or by sending a check to Pentagon Memorial Fund Inc., 5185 MacArthur Boulevard NW, Suite 115, Washington, D.C. 20016. Donations may also be made through

Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via
e-mail. Go here now.

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Conservatives are happier than liberals, according to a new book by Arthur C. Brooks. “You find that all the way back to the early 1970s, as long as we’ve been keeping data on the subject, conservatives have consistently shown greater life satisfaction than liberals,”...
Tuesday, 13 May 2008 03:57 PM
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