Who’s happy now?

As Loyal Readers™ well know, the Palace houses the world’s most renowned research program dedicated to the study of Conservative Personality Disorder. Something that has really puzzled us over the years is that research purporting to examine the relationship between political orientation and happiness has consistently revealed conservatives as being happier than liberals. This finding not only runs counter to a lifetime of personal experience that shows unequivocally that “happy conservative” is an oxymoron, it’s also counterintuitive on its face. I mean, do abortion clinic protestors strike you as happy? How about right-wing Christian clergy? Gun fetishists? Pundits like Limbaugh, Hannity and Coulter? White supremacists? Birthers? War Hawks? I’m not just talking about raging spittle-flecked tirades, either. It is self evident to me that a truly happy person would have exactly zero interest in policing, bullying and dominating other people by any means available. And yet conservatives do all of this, and they do it in the service of getting other people to conform to their (fictional) orderly little black-&-white world—and judging and punishing them harshly when they don’t. Either way, it vindicates and validates their (also fictional) moral superiority. They are nothing if not narcissists: everything is about them, all the time, including a gay couple’s marriage five states away, and what goes into or comes out of my vagina. Have you ever met a happy narcissist? No, you most certainly have not.

But you know what? If the science says it’s so, I just have to chalk it up to another head scratcher and move on with finding the cure. (For conservatism—not for happiness. Obviously.)

Now comes an article by Rachel Feltman in The Washington Post:

O rly?

When asked if they’re happy, political conservatives are more likely to say yes than liberals. But a new study suggests that liberals might be the happier bunch — and conservatives might just want to look good.

Researchers believe that conservatives may have a reputation for being happy because it’s in their nature to talk themselves up.

You don’t say.

It turns out that all of the academic research on the so-called “happiness gap” was based entirely on self reports. Self reports! This is the sign of sheer incompetence: as any serious student of conservatism can tell you, conservatives are infamous for self-reporting lies. (See e.g. church attendance, or Bill O’Reilly’s entire career.) But this new research took a different approach:

Led by Sean Wojcik, a doctoral student in psychology and social behavior at the University of California at Irvine, the experiment analyzed photos and language analysis from the LinkedIn and Twitter profiles of those identified as either liberal or conservative.

“Common sense would dictate that if you want to know how happy someone is, you can ask them,” said Peter Ditto, UCI professor of psychology & social behavior and co-author of the paper. “But what do you do if someone says they’re happy, but doesn’t act that way?”

My point exactly.

Indeed, Ditto and Wojcik found more genuine smiles (as measured by standard facial analysis) and more positive language in the Web trail of liberals, even though other members of that group self-reported as less happy in the very same study.

The reason, they say, is that political conservatives have a tendency to self-aggrandize. When they compared happiness self-reports with tests that measured a tendency to enhance one’s better qualities, they found that the happiness gap could be explained by a self-enhancement gap. In other words, liberals were being more honest about their personal pitfalls.

Huh. Well what do you know.


3 thoughts on “Who’s happy now?

  1. Hi Iris,

    I just discovered your site. I LOVE the “conservative personality disorder” posts. As someone who lived in very liberal East Village NY for many years and then suddenly found himself in very conservative Greenville SC for 8 years (thankfully we’ve moved an hour north to Asheville, more on that in a moment), I’ve been stunned by the level of insanity among conservatives. I seem to recall you’re in Brooklyn, so you perhaps can’t imagine it. Not long after we arrived in Greenville, we overheard a cashier in the next line over say to a woman, “Are you Jewish?” The woman, having dealt with this before, immediately said, “yes, do you go to Bob Jones?” “yes” the cashier replied, “We’re studying your people. We think you’re wonderful,”

    As Jan (my wife) and I stopped to recover from this, not quite sure we actually heard right, we pondered this – the cashier thinks the woman is wonderful because when all the Jews return to Jerusalem, Christ will return, at which point the “saved” Christians will rise up into the air and which (with what I assume will be smug condescension and narcissistic pity??) as the heathens (including all the Jews!!) will burn and writhe with agony and ultimately be sent to Hell, after which the saved Ones will descend and “inherit the earth.”

    Anyway, as a clinical psychologist, I just wanted to add, the research on happiness is TERRIBLE. It’s incredibly badly done – and I actually like a few things about positive psychology. I would add that most research in psychology is quite badly done (and I admit to having done some research as well; hopefully not as bad as some; but it’s definitely not physics!). I’ve been puzzled by these studies for years, and it doesn’t fit my experience.

    I suspect if you looked at them closely, it’s like the “research” showing conservatives give more. I did look at it, and it turns out they include putting money in the collection plate as “giving.” There’s a whole lot that “liberals’ give in terms of financial contributions that it turns out they don’t even report to the government, and the studies don’t include that either.

    “Happiness” also, I’ll bet – though I admit I haven’t looked at it closely – includes “contentment with the way things are>” Well if you’re a psychopath, you might think it’s just fine that poor people are starving and police officers shoot unarmed civilians and senators commit treason by negotiating with foreign governments, but you know what, it’s possible to be happy and still want things to change. For some reason, conservatives (and poorly educated psychology researchers) don’t seem to understand this.

    I’ve already sent your CPD page to a number of folks great stuff!!

  2. Oh, I forgot I was going to say something about Asheville. Here’s something that happened not long after we moved here at Greenvile that is just one of the many things that makes us so VERY thankful we’re no longer in South Carolina.

    There was some feminist protest march here a few years ago, and I think there was a gay pride parade some point around the same time. Well, in reaction to this, some tea party representative up in the northern part of our state referred to Asheville as a “cesspool of sin.”

    I kid you not – by the next morning, there were people selling “Asheville – cesspool of sin” t-shirts in the downtown square. Someone in the Mountain Express sent a letter wondering if Ashevillians shouldn’t do something to dispel the notion, and others wrote in, “Are you crazy? This is going to be great for tourism.”

    You can still go to downtown Ashevile and get one of those t-shirts.

    “Keep Asheville weird” – that’s our slogan! (I know, Austin, TX has that too, but I think we said it first).

  3. Hello donsalmon and welcome to our humble abode. Are you familiar with Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert? I found it insightful, evidence-based, and just generally a great read.

    My Amazing Lover™ and I adore Asheville (we stay at the Grove Park Inn, and are especially fond of the Edison restaurant there—and the spa). My occasional co-blogger here, SJ (Science Junkie), lives just outside of Asheville, and the first time I met him he was wearing an “Asheville – cesspool of sin” t-shirt! Incidentally he also has a background in psychology, and loves Stumbling on Happiness too.

    I moved to NYC over 20 years ago; more than half of that I’ve spent in the West Village where I live now, and before that Hell’s Kitchen. I’m a Philly native who grew up in the surrounding ‘burbs, and I basically ran screaming from small town conservative ‘Murrikkka. My parents are both conservatives (and of course narcissists). I used to think NYC was a shining beacon, a blazing blazing testament to dynamic diversity that drew like moths to a flame creative types like me and people from all over the world seeking acceptance and a decent life. And I still think it is in many ways, but now I see it as more of a bubble than a beacon. Venture too far beyond its borders, and conservative zombies predominate. (And they’ve carved out territory here, too.) Sadly, I’m also no longer surprised to find deeply conservative attitudes just below the surface of my fellow New Yorkers, for example in white, cis-gendered, gay men towards blacks, trans*people and/or women.

    Only occasionally do I cross paths (and swords) with the generic species of Fox News @$$hole, the ones who make the unfortunate mistake of sidling up to the bar at one of my watering holes and begin to spew forth as if they were in their native environment among like-minded shitweasels. I must admit I thoroughly enjoy helping them make a mockery of themselves to the point that they become sputtering apoplectics, and they usually storm out in a huff. (Buh-bye.) I’ve honed a Socratic approach of sorts, asking sincere questions and mirroring back what they are saying—without withholding any genuine laughter that might (and usually does) arise. They are so entirely unused to being challenged on their worldview, and it’s quite remarkable to see how infantile and fragile they really are (and also how reticent other liberals are to confront and engage them, but that’s another rant). I find it’s mostly d00ds, although one memorable occasion during the Bush presidency I brought a woman to tears. She kept repeating “But George Bush is a good man!” as if that were the most obvious and uncontroversial fact in the world, ranking right up there with “water is wet.” I just kept asking her “How is he a good man? But in what way is he a good man? What are the qualities of good man in your view, and how does he demonstrate them?” He just is. Oh, okay, I see. Well, you’ve certainly convinced me. Once I think I broke up a marriage when the woman discovered just how disgusting and retrograde her d00d’s views actually were. Before he finally got the check and left he was yapping at me that “you need to learn that there are a whole lot of people in this country who disagree with you!” O rly. But not here, there aren’t. ;)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s