In the News: Fundamentalist America–A Happy Place

Fundamentalist America is a happy place.

At least according to a piece in today’s New York Times by Arthur C. Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute.  Brooks argues that the stereotype of the angry, frustrated conservative–Adorno’s warped “authoritarian personality”–doesn’t match American reality.

In fact, Brooks’ review of survey data concludes that the happiest Americans of all are those who identify themselves as extreme conservatives.  Why so?  Brooks ventures a guess:

One possibility is that extremists have the whole world figured out, and sorted into good guys and bad guys. They have the security of knowing what’s wrong, and whom to fight. They are the happy warriors.

But conservatives in general tend to be happier than liberals, Brooks notes.  There may be simple, obvious explanations.  For instance, stable marriages and religious faith tend to add to general happiness, statistically speaking.  And conservatives tend to be more married and more religious than their liberal counterparts.

So, all my fellow outsiders in Fundamentalist America, the next time you need to go to your happy place, try a trip to Fundamentalist America!

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  1. If you haven’t already, you should talk to David about this sometime. He had a graduate student a while back who looked at this. In particular, she looked at some of the contexts in which conservative and liberal children were happiest and found some very interesting differences between the groups. For instance, children belonging to conservative Christian churches were happiest when they were around others and would almost immediately become uneasy when they were alone. Liberal Christian children, by contrast, were happiest alone, but their moods would only decrease by a smaller proportion when they were with others.

    • Thanks, Yasha. I’m most curious to know more about how we determine for social-scientific purposes what “happiness” means. It seems to me from my ignorant standpoint that people brought up more thoroughly in a therapeutic culture might be more inclined to identify themselves as unhappy even when they might be just as happy as the next guy. This might tip unhappiness toward the liberal end of the spectrum.
      There are some comments in today’s NYT about this article. Most of them point out the fairly shopworn connection between conservatism, financial stability, and happiness.


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