happiness and hope

[Part 2 in a series on “the happiness gap.”]

Political conservative are happier than liberals.  And extremists are happier than moderates.  I wrote about this yesterday.

I also agreed with Arthur Brooks that this results somewhat from the “security of knowing what is wrong and whom to fight.”   Commitment and conviction bring us closer to our original design.

But is there more to it than that?  What accounts for the fact that conservatives are generally happier than liberals?

Frankly, I don’t think it’s the politics.   Two other possibilities come to mind.

One is the relationships.   The research we reviewed shows conservatives are more likely to be married and go to church.  Both of these involve being with and being committed to others in some way.

This is more important than whether they voted for George Bush.  From the beginning God said it was not good for us to dwell alone.  And he designed both marriage and church for this reason.

Relationships satisfy something in us.  The image of being alone is one we associate with unhappy people, sitting by the couch all night watching TV and eating ice cream.    We reach out to avoid being alone.

In this way, marriage grounds us, satisfying a basic need.  And church extends our family in a transient world.   People who go to church have more friends and their relationships are more satisfying.  Research confirms this. And the ability to draw on such a community in times of loss or stress is deeply comforting.  Few people want to die alone.

But the relational component is only part of the story.  The other reason conservatives may be happier than liberals has to do with what they believe.  We cited data that shows extreme conservatives are happier than extreme liberals, although both are happier than moderates.

Again, I’m not concerned here with political preferences. Liberals may want to think the reason conservatives tend to be happier is because they are too insensitive to see all the misery in the world.  But maybe conservatives are just more hopeful.

People who decide to marry are filled with hope, for example.  And marriages that last are hope-filled marriages.  We can do this.  We’ll make it.  This is going to work.

The hope I speak of is not wishful thinking.  It’s a confident expectation, rooted in promises made and kept.  Hope in God is different, however.  And better.  That’s because the promises and the promiser are better.  But it’s also because once you accept a measure of providence you begin to give up the illusion of control.

This does not eliminate or even reduce our responsibility for suffering people around us.  It should, in fact, heighten it.  We become stewards of grace.  We become hands and feet that do the work of God.

But in Christ we also become children of promise.   And it’s easier to be happier when we hope in God.  Frankly, if my hope was in human agency or government I wouldn’t be happy either.

I’m not saying that every professing Christian is happy, of course. Or that every political conservative is either.  I know plenty of them that are unhappy, fearful, and even paranoid. I’m also not saying liberals can’t be happy, married or faithful.

What I’m saying is that there may be more conservatives that hope in God than liberals, and this hope explains their higher likelihood of happiness.

It certainly explains mine.

3 thoughts on “happiness and hope”

  1. Well said. The part that spoke most strongly with me is, “The hope I speak of is not wishful thinking. It’s a confident expectation, rooted in promises made and kept. Hope in God is different, however. And better. That’s because the promises and the promiser are better. But it’s also because once you accept a measure of providence you begin to give up the illusion of control.” This really makes me happy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s