Ten Miles Square

Blog

July 11, 2012 11:26 AM NYT op-ed by David Brooks on Happiness

By Andrew Gelman

David Frum points us to a recent op-ed by Brooks on happiness. Frum writes that Brooks presents a lot of statistics in a very reasonable-sounding way (in the Brooksian mode of low-key concerned conservatism) but without quite answering the questions posed in the op-ed.

Here’s Brooks:

Who is happier about life — liberals or conservatives? The answer might seem straightforward. After all, there is an entire academic literature in the social sciences dedicated to showing conservatives as naturally authoritarian, dogmatic, intolerant of ambiguity, fearful of threat and loss, low in self-esteem and uncomfortable with complex modes of thinking. And it was the candidate Barack Obama in 2008 who infamously labeled blue-collar voters “bitter,” as they “cling to guns or religion.” Obviously, liberals must be happier, right?
Wrong. Scholars on both the left and right have studied this question extensively, and have reached a consensus that it is conservatives who possess the happiness edge. Many data sets show this. For example, the Pew Research Center in 2006 reported that conservative Republicans were 68 percent more likely than liberal Democrats to say they were “very happy” about their lives. This pattern has persisted for decades. The question isn’t whether this is true, but why… .

But here’s what impressed me. The article is by “Arthur Brooks” but it reads exactly like an article by David Brooks. I mean, exactly. I don’t know if this is a trick, exactly, but it’s pretty damn impressive. Let’s just say that if someone asked me to write an article for the Physical Review in the style of Murray Gell-Mann, I wouldn’t find it so easy.

[Cross-posted at The Monkey Cage]

Andrew Gelman is a professor of statistics and political science and director of the Applied Statistics Center at Columbia University.

Comments

  • Mitch on July 11, 2012 12:41 PM:

    "...conservative Republicans were 68 percent more likely than liberal Democrats to say they were “very happy” about their lives. This pattern has persisted for decades. The question isn’t whether this is true, but why..."

    Ignorance is bliss.

    That's exactly why I'd be willing to believe that "conservatives" are happier. Ignorance is bliss, it is also mental/emotional security.

    The less you know, the less you question what you know. The more confident you are in your beliefs and actions. The less likely you are to question anything.

    Of course, ignorance also leave you open to manipulation, lies and abuse. Ignorance leads you into making decisions that are very self-destructive. Ignorance is much more dangerous that being somewhat less happy.

    Conservatives react with such passionate intensity when anything threatens their comfortable shield of ignorance. This is why they are "authoritarian, dogmatic, intolerant of ambiguity, fearful of threat and loss, low in self-esteem and uncomfortable with complex modes of thinking."

    This is not a paradox.

    Children, overall, are much happier than adults. But as any parent of a toddler knows, they react with near-violence at the slightest thing that threatens their bliss. Ignorance is bliss; and bliss HATES being disturbed.