In fact it is an article about happiness and the causes and effects thereof. The thesis is framed around Arthur Brooks’ book Gross National Happiness. It takes different classes of people, looks at their relative happiness levels, and how often, in terms of our perceived notions of happiness, the cart often leads the horse.
Let’s take the example of parenthood:
Fact #1: People who have children are happier than people who do bot have children.
This might lead one to suspect that having children increases happiness. Studies show that it has the opposite effect: having children actually makes people generally unhappier. How is this possible that people with children aren’t unhappier than people with children? It’s a simple misunderstanding of the cause and the effect. The truth is that happy people are more likely to have children; happiness causes children…not the other way around.
He then goes on to discuss political classes:
Fact #2: Conservatives are more happy than liberals.
Doesn’t that make you want to run to the far right, just so you can be happy? Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way; it isn’t possible. It’s another case of misunderstanding cause and effect. Being conservative doesn’t make you happy; being happy makes you conservative. If you are content with the way things are, you will want to keep the status quo…the hallmark of a conservative. If things change, it might make you less happy. Being unhappy, conversely, makes you want to change things, therefore people who want change generally gravitate towards the left. If you’re a liberal and you want to stop being unhappy then you have to stop caring so much about wanting to make things better. If you’re already aware of them (and if you are a self-proclaimed liberal you probably are) this means to be happy you need to turn a blind eye to things that need changing.
Do not fear, though, there is still something else that can make you happy even if you cannot bring yourself to accept the status quo:
Fact #3: Although conservatives are happier than liberals, extreme conservatives and extreme conservatives are both happier than moderates.
To visualize unhappiness in politics, picture the Olympic medalist stand. The guy in the middle with the gold medal of unhappiness is standing on the highest block, the guy on the left with the silver medal of unhappiness is standing on the medium-sized block, and the guy on the right with the bronze medal of unhappiness is standing on the smallest block. “Extremists are happy, Mr Brooks reckons, because they are certain that they are right. Alas, this often leads them to conclude that the other side is not merely wrong, but evil.” So even if you can’t change your liberal ways, you can still be happy(er) if you embrace the complete inability to accept the possibility that your beliefs might be wrong.
That’s what Lexington says, I can’t say that I agree:
Fact #4: There are twice as many angry conservatives in this country as their are angry liberals.
(This fact comes from Hal Malchow’s book not Brooks’ article.)
How does that fit into the picture? Does happiness make you angry? Ridiculous. Does anger cause happiness? Perhaps. Malchow goes on to say, “Liberals by their very nature don’t get as angry as conservatives do.” By their very nature, then Conservatives are happier and enjoy being angry. Could this tie back in to their self-confidence in their being “right”? The biggest problem is that to do a proper survey on happiness, the surveyor needs a way to quantify what happiness is. In the survey Brooks used, they used self-evaluation. They simply asked people, “Are you happy? … How happy/unhappy are you?” Therefore it was not proved that conservatives actually are happier than liberals; it was only proved that conservatives think that they are happier than liberals (and therefore extremists only think that they are happier than moderates). On one hand I believe that if you think that you’re happy, then you are…but then why are conservatives and extremists getting so angry all the time?
The answer lies in where one finds happiness. I was reminded this past weekend of an Asian proverb about building one’s house on the sand. I wish I had written it down, but there’s a useful biblical version of it as well (Matthew 7:24-27 for anyone that’s keeping score):
A wise man [builds] his house upon a rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. […] A foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell.
If your happiness is built upon a solid foundation, you have nothing to worry about. If your happiness is built upon a weak foundation, you will probably be plagued by a nagging feeling that your happiness will slip away from you. This nagging will turn into fear and that fear will drive you to be angry at anyone that poses a threat to your happiness. It’s tricky because we often don’t realize from where our happiness stems. If you find happiness through money, it will make you afraid of other people taking your money…leading you to strive to take money away from other people. If you find happiness is politics, it will make you afraid of losing power…leading you to manipulate political situations so that your power is assured. If you find happiness in religion, it will make you afraid of your faith being flawed…leading you to seek out and vilify those who have different beliefs than you. If you have a president that finds happiness through money, politics, and religion you will have a president who instills fear to legitimize his dropping of bombs on Muslims to help his oil business…but I digress.
What this made me realize is that we need a president who doesn’t enjoy being president. Unlike Adams* I believe that we need a president that knows and wants to be in power, but shouldn’t enjoy it. I want a miserable sonuvabitch to go to work begrudgingly every day to balance budgets, create jobs, and stop wars. At the end of the day he will go home and complain to his wife and family about what a crappy job he has. This is the sort of man who won’t be distracted by the foundations of his happiness because he doesn’t have any! He won’t want to expand an empire or philosophy, he won’t be distracted from the job by personal passions, and he won’t start a war without a damn good reason. I want a party to figure out who the best person for the job is, chase them down, and convince them to be president…instead of the other way around. Then we’d have the perfect president!
*Yes, Jenny, I do mean Douglas Adams not John Adams.