I ran into an old poll by Pew yesterday. It was about the issue of happiness. It was done in 2006, but they tell me that these indicators have existed long before and presumably still apply. The headline is that Republicans are happier than Democrats, or more precisely, conservatives are happier than liberals.
I was puzzled, as you might guess, and well, it got me to thinking. Of course a whole lot of things were measured in that poll, and you can’t read too much into the results as they make perfectly clear. It turns out that health is by far the best indicator of happiness, followed by wealth and then we get to marriage and Republicanism. You see the pattern? Wealth means better health care and thus better health. Republicans are more wealthy than liberals. Marriage seems benign here. Oh and another indicator is church attendance; those that adhere more rigidly to faithful church going, are happier. That fits as well, conservative religious do attend more church.
But the problem remains that when all factors are held even, Republicans still are happier than liberals. Overall Republicans are 46% happy and liberals only 28%. So what gives?
Well it seems to me, that when other factors are eliminated, then the only rational place to look is at world views, those beliefs that make one either conservative or liberal in the first place. Now conservatives no doubt are jumping for glee, saying, “you see, I knew it, Republican values lead to happiness!” And in a sense I suspect they are right, but only in a sense. (You surely don’t think I’m giving in to a Republican notion do you?)
And I want to say right off, that what follows is not purely the result of my own thoughts. I read a number of comments off a posting about this and something struck me in one response as “right” on. It is part of conservative culture that success is mostly a result of self-sufficiency, the guts to gut it out, go it alone, work hard, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, and other such claptrap. It’s social Darwinism at its best. The fittest survive in life. And the fittest are those willing to work hard, harder than anybody else. It’s a prideful stance to be sure.
Conservatives thus don’t have a lot of “feeling” for most people beneath them. They see them as people who got as far as they were “willing” to go. They assume they are satisfied, or should be, since if they were not they have only to sacrifice sufficiently to get further along.
Since they feel this way, they concentrate of making their “own opportunities” and protecting and securing the well being of their own families. This is what it means to be human they think. They are suspicious of government which they see as a restraint of their ability to secure their own welfare. Government steals their money and gives it over to people who are unwilling to do as they have done. Happiness derives from a personal “job well done.”
Liberals on the other hand see a world that is wildly unequal. While some millions live in near luxury, others through no fault of their own, live in utter squalor and face literal starvation. Liberals see government as an establishment of the people to provide for all the people an adequate life. Problems of inequality in any area are too large to be addressed individually. They are not natural and have been imposed for millennia by haves. How is one to be happy, no matter one’s place in the economic boat, when others so clearly are dying from lack?
Now you may find this all a bit too trite, and undoubtedly it is. But I think it does contain a kernel of truth. I spend some time each week arguing with ultra conservatives of a religious take. I have been soundly shocked again and again at how coldly they respond to many issues of social justice. The self-proclaimed “serious” Catholics (one’s who follow the Church dogma down to the last tiddle AS THEY INTERPRET IT), are mighty quick to condemn the homeless, immigrants, welfare moms, and a whole host of less fortunate as essentially lazy folks. They find that charity alone is more than sufficient to take care of the relatively small numbers of people who actually need assistance. It’s all in the way you define things it seems.
They ignore the statistics and first hand accounts of doctors and emergency care workers that most of the people they see who are unable to pay for health care are not people who have no health care, but instead are those who are working poor. They have it, but it covers so little that they are essentially uninsured. They ignore the numbers that suggest that a valid percentage of executions occur in this country against people later found out to be not guilty.
What it suggests to me is that a number of things are reinforcing this cold rejection of objective truth. First of all, a rigid religious world view means that whatever the real world looks like, the Church has been doing the right things, so if it looks wrong, it can’t be the Church’s fault. A tidy little theology is required for a tidy little mind. Nothing can upset the cart, because that would be well, untidy, and we can’t have that.
If i feel then that I have worked really hard and have amassed some small wealth, a nice retirement, full health care, dental, and all the rest, then I become suspicious when they ask me for some of what I worked so hard for. After all, I tell myself, i worked hard, I’m nobody special, anybody else could do the same. They don’t want to, Don’t take my STUFF!!!!!!
You see, it seems to me, that there is nothing magical in either Church attendance or Republican doctrine that makes you happy. You, I suggest, have a propensity to viewing the world a certain way. You found a religion that falls in with that world view, AS YOU INTERPRET IT, and you find a political party that does the same, again, AS YOU INTERPRET IT.
Democrats/liberals do no differently. We bring the world view to the town square and find a better match in Democratic notions of fair play, even playing field, basic human rights, and a government meant to serve the people and not the manifestations of the people, namely corporations.
Speaking for myself, I realize that some folks are not emotionally or psychologically able to compete in the big bad world. Others do so but at great price. That does not mean they are lazy or unfit for living good lives. I don’t begrudge them a share of my largess in order to live with respect.
I’m not sure what happiness is. I’m a master at delayed gratification I know that. And I know that in being that way, to an extreme, I’ve undoubtedly sacrificed a lot of happiness. If you put off enough things until the right moment, you can ultimately miss a lot in life. I have done so. I try not to do it so much any more. I tend to see that the now is very important. Now is the only guarantee I have. But I still can’t sit down and read a book when there is a house that needs cleaning. And I probably never will.
As a card carrying member of liberality–yeah way out there for the most part–I don’t know if I’m happy or not. After another two inches of rain, probably not so much today. But I resonate with a lot of new thought teaching which encourages me to seize the moment. Buddhism says that happiness is the absence of suffering. And in part at least suffering is our constant whining about what might have been or what should be. It is not being able to be comfortable in the moment. It’s not accepting the isness of now. It’s always depending on delayed gratification and missing the small wonders of this very moment and all that that entails.
So I hate that conservatives “don’t care” but I think they may be closer to living in their moment than I in mine. I’m always stuck in the “as soon as this problem is solved or over, then, I can get on with my life.” Trouble is another one just pops up to replace the old one anyhow. So perhaps I don’t spend enough time on the wonder of today, and the blessings I actually have. And then again, that gets me to thinking. . . .