Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Why Are They Happier?

Polls and other studies in recent years have consistently found that conservative Americans are happier than liberal Americans. Lots of people have held forth on why this should be so, and Dennis Prager adds his thoughts to the mix in a column at the Washington Times. He writes:
Liberals respond [to the findings] this way: "If we're unhappier, it's because we are more upset than conservatives over the plight of those less fortunate than ourselves." But common sense and data suggest other explanations.

For one thing, conservatives on the same socioeconomic level as liberals give more charity and volunteer more time than do liberals. And as regards the suffering of non-Americans, for at least a half-century, conservatives have been far more willing to sacrifice American treasure and American blood (often their own) for other nations' liberty.

Both of these facts refute the liberals-are-more-concerned-about-others explanation for liberal unhappiness. So, let's look at other explanations.
Prager goes on to consider four possible reasons for the gap. Here's the fourth:
A fourth explanation for greater unhappiness among liberals is that the more people allow feelings to govern them, the less happy they will be. And the further left one goes, the more importance one attaches to feelings....

A couple of years ago, I gave a speech on happiness to the students and faculty of a prestigious high school in the Los Angeles area. The subject was the need to act happy even when one isn't feeling happy -- because it is unfair to others to inflict our bad moods on them and because we will never be happy if we allow our feelings to dictate our happiness.

From what I experienced that day and learned later, liberal students and faculty generally loathed my speech; conservative students generally loved it (there was no conservative faculty to speak of). Why? Because conservatives are far more likely to be comfortable with the idea that feelings are not as important as behavior.

Those who know that feelings must not govern us, but that we must govern our feelings, are far more likely to be happy people.
I think there's a lot to what Prager says here. When people measure their happiness by their feelings they're bound to be disappointed because our feelings are so mercurial. It's much better to act as if we're content with life, regardless of how we're feeling at the time, because our feelings tend to follow our actions. That is, our minds tend to make our feelings conform to our behavior. Unfortunately, we often choose to act according to the way we feel, but this, in my opinion, is not a good practice.

If we consistently allowed our feelings to dictate our behavior, fewer people would stay married, far fewer people would show up for work on Monday morning, fewer people would sacrifice to help people they don't know, and no one would perform acts of great courage. All of these things - staying married, going to work in the morning, sacrificing for strangers, acting bravely - are things people do even though they often don't feel like doing them. If they acted according to their feelings they wouldn't do them, so allowing our feelings to dictate our conduct tends to make us less virtuous than we otherwise might be.

We're a lot better off, and we'll live much more virtuous and happy lives, if we make our will the master of our feelings rather than making our feelings the governor of our will.

Anyway, Prager has more interesting ideas on the topic of why conservatives are apparently happier than liberals in the article. Check it out.