This week’s “Lexington” in “The Economist” was inspired by a new book entitled “Gross National Happiness”.

Mr Brooks [the author] proposes that whatever their respective merits, the conservative world view is more conducive to happiness than the liberal one (in the American sense of both words). American conservatives tend to believe that if you work hard and play by the rules, you can succeed. This makes them more optimistic than liberals, more likely to feel in control of their lives and therefore happier. American liberals, at their most pessimistic, stress the injustice of the economic system, the crushing impersonal forces that keep the little guy down…the American left is now a coalition of groups that define themselves as the victims of social and economic forces, and its leaders encourage people to feel helpless and aggrieved.

These are important points. Without their misery, the Left loses its (pardon my French) raison d’être. Tammy has told us how, back in the days when she was a Leftist insider, her mentor explained the necessity of rubbing salt into the collective psychic wounds in order to keep the movement alive. Tammy had been of the naïve opinion that they were working to solve problems rather than to lock people down and create a perpetual power structure.

Thus conservatives have greater potential to achieve happiness. But it would be an oversimplification to say that becoming conservative is enough in itself to make one happy.

I’ll offer a few more thoughts on happiness for you hardcore philosophers…

With respect to any cause-and-effect question, people commonly make unfounded assumptions about which is the cause and which is the effect. For example, there may be a connection between crime and poverty, but does poverty cause crime or does crime cause poverty? Or are the two intertwined in some vicious circle? Or does some hidden factor foster both crime and poverty. Likewise, does being conservative cause happiness, or does happiness cause conservatism? It’s an interesting question.

My favorite example of misplaced causation is to note the correlation between cars that have accidents and cars that have umbrellas in them. Does carrying an umbrella make an accident more likely? Can we decrease the likelihood of having an accident by removing umbrellas from our cars? No, of course it’s the arrival of a rainstorm that causes a spike in both accidents and cars with umbrellas. But you can see how easy it is for people to draw faulty conclusions based upon isolated facts and unsound premises.

Some studies have concluded that happiness is largely a matter of genetic determination. You either get “happy genes” or “unhappy genes”. This theory rings true to me. I am a sourpuss by nature, and will always be so. (This is Maynard speaking; we all know Tammy to be a creature of sweetness and light.) So, being inclined to misery, how, then, did I become conservative? The answer is that I’m a self-hating sourpuss, and didn’t want to hang out with the other sourpusses. So I pretend to be happier than I am, in order to associate with people who aren’t woeful sad sacks. And that’s how I got recruited into the vast right-wing conspiracy.

And by the way, I think I have indeed become happier as a result of pretending to be happier. I’ll never win any Olympic medals for happiness, but there’s benefit to be had by walking the walk, at least in as much as one’s genes permit one to take a few staggering steps in that direction.

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3 Comments | Leave a comment
  1. danherak says:

    I agree with your final point about how walking the walk actually does make one happier. I, too, have a naturally dark view of the world and many of the people in it. After projecting such an attitude for years, along with a propensity to not make friends, I simply decided to act happy and force myself to chat people up.

    As someone influenced by existentialist thoughts and the belief in free will, I believed I could make significant choices about myself even at very fundamental levels of my personality. Now, although I will never be a rose-colored-glasses type of guy, I am actually happier than I once was and am often seen by others as one of the more social people they know. People who did not know the earlier me are usually taken aback if I inform them that my disposition is not natural, but chosen by free will and is contrary to my natural propensity. Yes, there is a lot of backsliding, especially after emotionally tough days. But the larger picture still comes through. Give it a try, people. The results might surprise you.

  2. Saxonman says:

    Well, let’s form a club! I, too, am one of those who over many years forced myself to be happier and more social because I realized I could not have a decent life if I continued down that path. After years of wallowing in the fetid swamp of 1960’s-inspired, liberal self-loathing and feeling oh-so-righteous about it, I slowly pulled myself out and somehow, in the process, became a naturally happier person and a conservative one to boot. I don’t know which way the causation runs, but I do believe there is a correlation. I simply can’t imagine being that former self again–a person that never was the real me to begin with. Sometimes it takes a lifetime, but the important thing is getting there. And thanks, Tammy, for all you do and being a voice for us out here!

  3. joeblough says:

    I’m for the hidden common cause theory.

    Rationality causes both conservatism (by current standards of what is “conservative”) and happiness.

    Irrationality, by contrast is conducive to neither.

    That said I will add that conservatism, adopted as a posture is apt to expose a person both to more rational and happier people — and happiness adopted as a posture is apt to expose a person both to more rational and conservative people. So there are secondary influences at work.

    But rationality is the prime mover here.

    It will lead you to chose happiness over misery and to the means to accomplish that goal.

    It will also lead you to the political positions currently called conservative.

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