Inside the mind of a happy patriot

Nationalists may identify as patriots, and some people opposed to both ideologies might argue that they are equivalent. For national and individual well-being, though, distinguishing between them is important. Following Tocqueville and Orwell, we might define patriotism as civic pride in our democratic institutions and shared culture, and nationalism as a sense of superiority or identity, defined by demographics such as race, religion, or language. Modern social science finds a major quality-of-life difference between the two. In 2013, a cross-national team of political scientists measured the effects of each on the levels of social trust and voluntary association, both of which are strongly positively associated with personal well-being. They found that civic pride usually pushed both up, and ethnic pride pushed both down.

Given the evidence, it is reasonable to conclude that patriotism, as we have traditionally understood it in the United States, is good for our happiness. Meanwhile, nationalism (under Orwell’s definition) is not. If we are moving toward the latter in our society—as many argue we are—then, in terms of happiness, we are moving in the wrong direction.

No matter your political views or where you live, you can cultivate a patriotism of the healthy Tocquevillian sort, for your own benefit and to help inflect the national mood. This requires that you follow two guidelines.