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The Paradox of unhappy liberals and happy conservatives, in happy welfare states
According to a new study, people living in more liberal countries are happier than people in more conservative countries; but paradoxically, people who consider themselves to be liberal are less happy than people who think of themselves as conservative, regardless of where they live. Why?
A new paper titled The Subjective Well-Being Political Paradox: Happy Welfare States and Unhappy Liberals published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, has found that people living in more liberal countries rate themselves as happier than do people living in more conservative countries; but paradoxically, people who consider themselves to be liberal are less happy than people who think of themselves as conservative, regardless of where they live.
The study looked at responses from 1,134,384 participants to the Mannheim Eurobarometer survey from 1970 to 2002 and contrasted this data with information from the World Bank and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The researchers looked at sixteen European countries which were rated on liberalism based on factors including access to welfare, sickness benefits and unemployment compensation. Participants rated themselves on a scale of one to ten from left wing to right wing.
The results support previous work by political scientists and psychologists who have come to the same conclusions on a societal level and on an individual level respectively. In 2006 a Pew study of public opinion in the US found that 47% of Republicans reported themselves to be "very happy" compared to just 28% of liberal democrats. Republicans have reported themselves to be happier than Democrats every single year since the general social survey began in 1972 and the relationship does not seem to be mediated by whether Democrats or Republicans are in power:
"Since 1972, the GOP happiness edge over Democrats has ebbed and flowed in a pattern that appears unrelated to which party is in political power." - Pew Research Center (2006)
It should be noted however, that the latest study only looks at data that runs until 2002, and there is some evidence that in the US at least, this pattern may now be changing - at least for the most extreme conservatives who have seen their happiness decline in more recent years.
The reasons for the "happiness gap" provide great fodder for discussion. According to a 2008 paper published in Psychological Science which looked at data from the US collected in the year 2000, the reasons might not be as straight forward as we might expect. The researchers considered a number of possible explanations and attempted to determine the reason for the phenomenon of happy conservatives by controlling for a range of factors ranging from income to religion.
The obvious potential explanation was that conservatives are generally better off financially than liberals, though the researchers also considered gender, age, education, church attendance, need for cognition (the researchers reported a tendency in liberals to prefer difficult problems) and marital status - but none of these variables were found to explain the differences in reported happiness between conservatives and liberals. The researchers concluded that the variable responsible for the increased happiness found in conservatives was the tendency to rationalize inequality, as measured by high scoring answers to the following questions:
‘‘This country would be better off if we worried less about how equal people are.’’
‘‘It is not really that big a problem if some people have more of a chance in life than others.’’
The researchers behind the latest paper come to the same conclusion as the researchers behind the 2008 paper, writing:
"More conservative values help people rationalize the status quo, thereby buffering their SWB (subjective well-being) from the negative impact of any existing adverse societal conditions."
Conservatives, it seems, may be happier because they believe that people "get what they deserve", while liberals find it more difficult to be happy because they believe that life is unfair:
"Those who are more politically conservative more readily accept and endorse the legitimacy of their social, political, and economic reality in spite of any adverse conditions within the nation in which they live. This acceptance and endorsement heuristic leads to the belief that individuals are responsible for their outcomes and, ultimately, get what they deserve."
Personally, I'm not entirely convinced the phenomenon can be placed quite so squarely on this one factor, but it's a compelling argument. Perhaps if we allow ourselves to forget our privileged place in this world and worry not about the unfairness of life, then we'd all be happier. Myself, I think I'd rather be a little less happy.
Related: Steven Mazie's Big Think post, which discusses the 2008 study. Check it out for some very relevant further discussion!
Napier J.L. (2008). Why Are Conservatives Happier Than Liberals?, Psychological Science, 19 (6) 565-572. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02124.x
Okulicz-Kozaryn A. & Derek R. Avery (2014). The Subjective Well-Being Political Paradox: Happy Welfare States and Unhappy Liberals., Journal of Applied Psychology, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0037654
Radcliff B. (2001). Politics, Markets, and Life Satisfaction: The Political Economy of Human Happiness, American Political Science Review, 95 (4) DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/cbo9781139344371
Image Credit: Shutterstock (Composite)
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Researchers dramatically improve the accuracy of a number that connects fundamental forces.
- A team of physicists carried out experiments to determine the precise value of the fine-structure constant.
- This pure number describes the strength of the electromagnetic forces between elementary particles.
- The scientists improved the accuracy of this measurement by 2.5 times.
The process for measuring the fine-structure constant involved a beam of light from a laser that caused an atom to recoil. The red and blue colors indicate the light wave's peaks and troughs, respectively.
Scientists at Washington University are patenting a new electrolyzer designed for frigid Martian water.
- Mars explorers will need more oxygen and hydrogen than they can carry to the Red Planet.
- Martian water may be able to provide these elements, but it is extremely salty water.
- The new method can pull oxygen and hydrogen for breathing and fuel from Martian brine.