The news: It's time to retire the stereotype of conservatives being grumpy Scrooges — because they might be the happiest of us all.
According to a new study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, people in liberal countries, regardless of their political affiliation, report higher life satisfaction. But at the same time, more conservatives, regardless of their governments' leanings, report higher rates of happiness than liberals.
"Liberal governments tend to do more to shield citizens against certain hardships, such as unemployment and poverty, which can make people feel happier overall," study lead Adam Okulicz-Kozaryn said in a press release. "On the other hand, conservatives rate their well-being higher than liberals because conservatives more readily support and rationalize the status quo, thus, believing that socioeconomic hardships are a result of individual shortcomings."
What does this mean? Well, it looks like no one is happier than a conservative in a liberal country.
But to actually dig deeper: The researchers analyzed more than 1 million public-opinion surveys from 16 western European countries, going back as far as 1970. The participants rated their own political orientation and life satisfaction, while the researchers devised a rubric to determine how liberal each country was.
What the researchers found was that, for the most part, liberal countries with good social welfare programs elicited the highest-rated responses; the Scandinavian countries did the best in this regard. But when they looked at the individual level, the picture looked very different: Liberals reported being less satisfied with life, while conservatives reported higher rates of well-being.
What factors are at play? There are a number of possibilities. A 2012 New York Times story posited that it's because conservatives are more likely to be married and religious — two traits that are linked to higher reported life satisfaction. A 2007 NYU study suggested that conservatives have an "an ideological buffer against the negative hedonic effects of economic inequality," while a 2013 Canadian study found that conservatives are more receptive toward tradition and established social hierarchies.
There have also been attempts to link political orientation to biological differences, with a 2010 University College London study determining that "self-proclaimed right-wingers had a more pronounced amygdala - a primitive part of the brain associated with emotion," while a 2010 University of Toronto study argued that it was all down to psychological wiring.
"Politics is everywhere, and our findings suggest that citizens are best served when governments and organizations work together by instituting policies that have been shown to increase citizens' well-being," Okulicz-Kozaryn said.
We'd all do well to remember that.