I’m more interested in your feedback on this than I am in giving my opinion, but my gut feeling is that the touchstone of happiness is purposefulness. At first blush, I can’t reconcile my instinct that lifestyle, not politics per se, is more important with Brooks’s data that extreme ideologues on both sides are happier than squishy moderates. If lifestyle is the main component — e.g., married and religious people tend to be happier than singles and agnostics — then we’d expect moderates to be happier than liberals, fewer of whom have those lifestyle traits. But that’s not what the numbers show: 48 percent of happy people are “extremely conservative,” 35 percent are “extremely liberals,” and only 26 percent are “moderate.” Brooks spitballs:
Political moderates must be happier than extremists, it always seemed to me. After all, extremists actually advertise their misery with strident bumper stickers that say things like, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention!”
But it turns out that’s wrong….
What explains this odd pattern? One possibility is that extremists have the whole world figured out, and sorted into good guys and bad guys. They have the security of knowing what’s wrong, and whom to fight. They are the happy warriors.
Whatever the explanation, the implications are striking. The Occupy Wall Street protesters may have looked like a miserable mess. In truth, they were probably happier than the moderates making fun of them from the offices above. And none, it seems, are happier than the Tea Partiers, many of whom cling to guns and faith with great tenacity. Which some moderately liberal readers of this newspaper might find quite depressing.
The common thread between happy lifestyle choices and happy ideological choices is, I think, the sense of purpose. You have it if you have a spouse and children to care for; you have it if you believe God has a special role for you in the world; and you have it if you’re deeply committed to a political platform that you think will save the country. (Doesn’t mean you can’t be happy without those things, of course, but per the data, fewer people are.) Along the same lines, and as silly as it sounds, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that people who follow a sports team devotedly are also happier than average, simply because of the extra little shot of purpose that the team’s drive for a championship gives them vicariously. E.g., I’ve been watching the Pirates since day one this year, from the time they were a scrub team that hadn’t been .500 in 19 years to first place in the NL Central at the break and number five in the ESPN power rankings. And dude, I am telling you: Atheist though I am, if they go all the way and win the Series this year, I will see the face of God. Purpose — it’s a wonderful thing, even when it’s really, really trivial and dumb.
But as I say, I’m more interested in feedback. Why are conservatives happier than liberals?