SCIENCE
09/11/2014 09:51 am ET Updated Sep 11, 2014

The Surprising Reason Conservatives Are Happier Than Liberals

Are your political beliefs making you miserable? And when it comes to being happy, who has it better--conservatives or liberals?

It's complicated, that's for sure. But a provocative new study shows that people who live in countries with liberal governments are happier on average than those who live in countries with conservative governments. As for the connection between an individual's personal political leanings and his/her happiness, conservatives tend be happier than liberals.

Hmmm. That suggests the best of all possible worlds, happiness-wise, is to be a conservative who lives in a liberal country.

"Liberal governments tend to do more to shield citizens against certain hardships, such as unemployment and poverty, which can make people feel happier overall,” Dr. Adam Okulicz-Kozaryn, a psychologist at Rutgers University and the study's lead author, said in a written statement. “On the other hand, conservatives rate their well-being higher than liberals because conservatives more readily support and rationalize the status quo, thus, believing that socioeconomic hardships are a result of individual shortcomings.”

For the study, Okulicz-Kozaryn and his colleagues analyzed surveys conducted by the European Commission in 16 European countries between 1970 and 2002. In the surveys, 1,134,384 men and women rated their life satisfaction on a scale from "not at all satisfied" to "very satisfied," and indicated how they identified politically, from "very liberal" to "very conservative."

The researchers determined whether countries were liberal or conservative based on the availability of and funds dedicated to public services like welfare, pensions, sickness benefits and unemployment compensation.

Scandinavian countries were classified as the most liberal, according to this rubric. The researchers found that people living in these liberal countries reported higher life satisfaction, on average, than people living in more conservative countries.

Perhaps paradoxically, people who self-identified as conservative reported higher life satisfaction than their more liberal peers.

It's not the first study to find that conservatives report greater happiness than liberals. A 2006 report from the Pew Research Center showed that 45% of conservative Republicans reported being very happy, as compared to 30% of liberal Democrats. According to the report, this "partisan happiness gap" had shown up in surveys every year since 1972.

What explains the happiness gap? Some scientists have argued that it can be attributed to personality differences between the two groups or different thinking styles--that conservatives are more likely to rationalize inequality. Others have suggested a link with marriage rates and religious identification--pointing out that conservatives are more likely to be married and to identify as religious, both of which have been linked with higher levels of happiness.

Regardless of why conservatives are happier than liberals, what's the takeaway? Does this study mean that to be happiest, should people adopt conservative views and move to liberal countries?

"We are definitely not suggesting people adopt conservative views in order to be happy," Dr. Oscar Holmes IV, a professor of management at the university, told The Huffington Post in an email. "This could actually be detrimental to all citizens because countries actually need a good deal of citizens with liberal political orientations to continue to fight for and advance the causes that are representative of liberal governments."

HuffPost

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