Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Be Happy: Hate Thy Neighbor

Studies show that happy people are more kind, more generous, have better marriages, make better parents, and act with more integrity than unhappy people. That makes sense. If I am miserable I tend to make the people around me miserable as well. This is why Dennis Prager rightfully says, happiness is a moral issue.

What surprised me about happiness studies was the finding that conservatives are happier than liberals. And yet this statistic—44% of conservatives say they are happy or very happy as against 24% of liberals—has been constant for decades. What does it mean?

Conservative talk show hosts argue that this statistic proves that it is better to be conservative than liberal. Liberals argue that conservatives aren’t more happy, but only more self-referential. That is to say conservatives only care about themselves and do not let the unhappiness of others influence their happiness. Liberals, they argue, are less happy because they are troubled by the needs of the poor and the powerless.

I really have no way of deciding who is correct in this debate. In fact, it isn’t a debate in which I want to engage. No, what I want to know if 44% of conservatives and 24% of liberals are happy, what of the other 32%? Are these people miserable?

A 2007 survey found that 58% of Republicans claimed there were in excellent mental health, while only 43% of independents and 38% of Democrats feel the same. That means 62% of all Democrats feel some sense of mental disease. Add to that the 42% of Republicans and the 57% of independents who also rated their mental health as less than excellent and you have one very distressed country.

Still it is better to be a conservative Republican than anything else. So this electoral season I am going to change my allegiance from Independent to Republican. To help me get into the Conservative Republican Happy Zone I am pasting red, white, and blue elephant stickers all over my house, inside and out. And I am going to argue against affirmative action, and better benefits for veterans, and for curtailing civil rights in our never ending war on terror. I’m also printing bumper stickers that read, “Bring Our Troops Home Later…A Lot Later;” “A Free Iraq By 2108;” “Let the Babies Live, Let the Mothers Die;” “Zygotes for Peace;” and “Gay: It’s a Choice, Just Like Hell.”

In fact just saying these things makes me feel better. I wonder if that is why Conservative Republicans are so happy and mentally healthy? It’s fun to hate the enemy. But that can’t be right. If hating one’s enemies is the key to mental health and happiness, I know a lot of liberal Democrats who should be ecstatic.

1 comment:

Scott D said...

Thanks for your fun exploration of these unclear findings. I wrote you a few months back about Renee Girard on sacrifice, and once again Girard helps us a bit.

The scapegoating process, "hate they neighbor" as you say, not only makes us happier but may form the basis of all social cohesion.

Whereas Hobbes suggests the state of nature emerged from a covenant of peace enforced by a sovereign and Locke suggests a more rational contract mutually enforced, Girard suggests that peace is found through scapegoating and rituals that recreate such actual events.

The most violent tales in Torah are actually quite revealing of this process, often from the standpoint of the victims. My teacher Gil Baile has a wonderful lecture on the Pinchas story's detail of the sacrificial mechanism and how, when the rituals no longer transfix and sustain peace, require a greater number and/or higher prestige of sacrificial murders.

But does reading Girard make me happier? Only when I get point at people who haven't read.....