If you would like to be happy, here are the two things you need to do. First, you need to be a conservative. And second, you need to be either just out of college or just starting retirement. Everyone else: You're on your own.
Everything in this article, we will note, should be taken with a grain of salt and a large, blinking warning: Your mileage may vary. Actually, let's do that explicitly.
With that established, here's the news.
The Washington Post reports on the first study, which was conducted by researchers at Brock and Ryerson Universities:
According to the 237 Canadian students surveyed for the study, an inclination toward “right-wing authoritarianism” and “social dominance orientation” tend to correlate with personal contentment. …
These are psychological terms, not political ones. They don’t overlap perfectly with our definitions of conservative and liberal. In a nutshell, right-wing authoritarianism involves submission to authority and tradition — generally conservative values. “Social dominance orientation” describes a willingness to support the current social hierarchy; in practical political terms, we’re talking positions like opposition to affirmative action and support for stricter immigration policies.
You get all those caveats? This is an approximation extrapolated from personality traits that simply correlates to happiness. For something more explicit, the Post points to a Pew Research study from 2006. That study replicated one the organization had done for years; in every result (as you can see at right), those who expressed a conservative worldview also reported being happier. (The low point, oddly, came after the reelection of Ronald Reagan.) While happiness also correlates with money — so much for that adage — the relationship between conservative political belief and happiness appears regardless of socio-economic status.
So what makes the difference? The Post thinks it may be a side effect of other conservative behavior, like marriage and religion, both of which are more prominent in conservatives.
Or perhaps it's because conservatives often skew older. Another study, from the London School of Economics, found the two ages at which people are the happiest: 23 and 69.
Sort of. What the paper (a brief of which is here and a graph from which is at left) actually showed is that people show the most "life satisfaction" at 23. Then life is a horrible, tedious, degenerating slog until your late 50s (your mileage may vary!) and increases slightly as the spectre of death becomes more clear. That peak at 69 brings you back to the level of satisfaction you had at 40 — a year spent pining for the halcyon days of two decades before.
In addition to the blinking caveat above, we recognize that this information doesn't really present you with many opportunities for making yourself happier. You could switch your political beliefs, apparently, but that might cause some unhappy side effects. If you're a man, you could go back in time and have sisters, which is apparently an indicator that you'll become more conservative.
Otherwise all you can do is wait, content in the knowledge that while you age you will, at some point down the road, start thinking life isn't that terrible once again. If you're over 69, however? Not much we have to offer.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.