While conservative say they are happier, it’s liberals who act and look happier, according to a new study.
The research questions the modern myth that conservatives are happier than liberals.
The key difference in this study is in how happiness was measured.
Professor Peter Ditto, one of the study’s authors, explained:
“If you want to know how happy someone is, one way to do it is to just ask them, and this logic has been relied upon heavily in research on subjective well-being.
But another way to think about it is that happy is as happy does, and looking at happiness-related behavior avoids the issue of someone striving to present him- or herself as a happy person.”
Liberals look and sound happier
The researchers analysed huge amounts of data from all sorts of sources.
They included millions of words from Congressional records of known conservatives and liberals.
They also included posts to Twitter and LinkedIn which were categorised as liberal or conservative by links to organisations with clear viewpoints.
For example, users who like Fox News are likely to be conservative, while users who like Planned Parenthood are likely to be liberal.
They found that liberals were more likely to use positive language while writing and talking.
Liberals were also were more likely to be smiling in photographs.
Sean Wojcik, the study’s first author, said:
“We were surprised by how consistently happiness-related behavior was predicted by having a liberal political ideology.
We saw similar patterns of emotional language and smiling behavior among Congress members, Twitter users and LinkedIn users.”
So, why is it that when asked in surveys, conservatives claim to be happier than liberals?
Mr Wojcik explained:
“People tend to report all kinds of traits and abilities in an overly favorable way.
If you ask people to rate themselves across almost any set of positive traits — intelligence, social skills, even driving ability — most will rate themselves above average.
We observed that effect to be stronger among conservatives than liberals.”
The news isn’t all bad for conservatives, though, Mr Wojcik said:
“There’s research saying that self-enhancement is related to improved social relations, productive and creative work, and other beneficial outcomes.”
The study is published in the journal Science (Wojcik et al., 2015).
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Smiling woman image from Shutterstock