Political liberals display greater happiness, study finds

March 12, 2015
Credit: Bill Kuffrey/public domain

What does it mean to be happy? Is it how happy you say you are, or is it how happy you act? Previous research has found that political conservatives report being happier than political liberals. But UC Irvine psychologists have discovered that those on the left exhibit happier speech patterns and facial expressions.

"The so-called ' gap' between liberals and conservatives is more complicated than we thought," said Sean Wojcik, a in psychology & at UCI and lead author of the study, which appears this month in Science.

Prior findings that political conservatives are happier than political liberals have been based on self-reports of happiness. But claims about one's happiness - just like claims about one's intelligence or morality - can be inflated by the desire to see oneself in a positive light.

"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," said Peter Ditto, UCI professor of psychology & social and co-author of the paper. "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."

To assess differences in happiness-related behavior, Wojcik and his colleagues turned to "big data" sources: online survey takers, American politicians, and Twitter and LinkedIn users with ties to companies or organizations associated with either liberal (Planned Parenthood, for example) or conservative (Fox News) viewpoints.

Specifically, the psychologists analyzed millions of words from Congressional Record transcripts and the photographs of every member of Congress, as well as 47,000 tweets and nearly 500 photos from LinkedIn. They found that contrary to the pattern of greater conservative happiness found in self-report questionnaires, liberals more frequently employed positive language in their speech and writing and smiled more intensely and genuinely in photographs.

"We were surprised by how consistently happiness-related behavior was predicted by having a liberal political ideology," Wojcik said. "We saw similar patterns of emotional language and smiling behavior among Congress members, Twitter users and LinkedIn users."

These results belie the self-reports of greater happiness among those who lean to the political right, and Wojcik has an explanation. "People tend to report all kinds of traits and abilities in an overly favorable way," he said. "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."

But this isn't necessarily a bad thing. "There's research saying that self-enhancement is related to improved social relations, productive and creative work, and other beneficial outcomes," Wojcik noted.

The study was also co-authored by Arpine Hovasapian of UC Irvine, Jesse Graham of the University of Southern California, and Matt Motyl of the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Explore further: Conservatism as a source of happiness

More information: Conservatives report, but liberals display, greater happiness, Science, www.sciencemag.org/lookup/doi/ … 1126/science.1260817

Related Stories

Conservatism as a source of happiness

February 11, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—Conservatives are happier than liberals because of their strong ties to a large network of social groups, according to a study from The University of Queensland.

Liberals, independents win life span sweepstakes, study claims

January 29, 2015
(HealthDay)—Liberals are in luck when it comes to longevity, new research contends.

Trying to be happier really can work: Two experimental studies

September 10, 2013
Think yourself happy! Is becoming happier as easy as trying to become happier? The latest research by two US academics suggests it might be.

In Japan, happiness is... wearable sensors?

February 10, 2015
It is a problem that has defeated generations of philosophers, poets and painters, but one Japanese company thinks it has come up with a way of knowing for sure if people are happy.

Recommended for you

Probing how Americans think about mental life

October 20, 2017
When Stanford researchers asked people to think about the sensations and emotions of inanimate or non-human entities, they got a glimpse into how those people think about mental life.

Itsy bitsy spider: Fear of spiders and snakes is deeply embedded in us

October 19, 2017
Snakes and spiders evoke fear and disgust in many people, even in developed countries where hardly anybody comes into contact with them. Until now, there has been debate about whether this aversion is innate or learnt. Scientists ...

Dutch courage—Alcohol improves foreign language skills

October 18, 2017
A new study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, conducted by researchers from the University of Liverpool, Maastricht University and King's College London, shows that bilingual speakers' ability to speak a second ...

Inflamed support cells appear to contribute to some kinds of autism

October 18, 2017
Modeling the interplay between neurons and astrocytes derived from children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues in Brazil, say innate ...

Study suggests psychedelic drugs could reduce criminal behavior

October 18, 2017
Classic psychedelics such as psilocybin (often called magic mushrooms), LSD and mescaline (found in peyote) are associated with a decreased likelihood of antisocial criminal behavior, according to new research from investigators ...

Taking probiotics may reduce postnatal depression

October 18, 2017
Researchers from the University of Auckland and Otago have found evidence that a probiotic given in pregnancy can help prevent or treat symptoms of postnatal depression and anxiety.

12 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

tadchem
2.7 / 5 (9) Mar 12, 2015
When I was in the military (1960's) I met many people who were only happy when they had something to complain about. I choose to surround myself with happy people, who are also oddly enough (coincidentally?) NOT political liberals.
verkle
Mar 12, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Steve 200mph Cruiz
5 / 5 (7) Mar 12, 2015
This explains why most artists are liberals.

I remember when I was in middle school I didn't have any friends and was pretty lonely, so I would just pour into my trusty Bible every night. I became a hard line conservative kid, I don't know where that came from considering my hippie parents haha.
But that way of life definitely did not make me happy. I was constantly fighting with my own mind because I knew in my heart that God wasn't real, but it was too scary for me to admit otherwise, and I think that's why I would get mad at people who were having sex or homosexuality.
I was just this self righteous dork walking around in this world full of sinners, which definitely did not make me happy.
Now I'm a self righteous liberal walking around a world full of idiots, which definitely does not make me happy, but at least I can hope and actively work for a better future than just bidding time until the apocalypse.
nevermark
5 / 5 (7) Mar 12, 2015
Most artists are socially liberal because socially conservative art is boring. Artists either push the boundary in some way, or they are just craftsmen.

Similarly, you want a conservative personality doing your accounting.

(In both cases I am speaking of personality, not political leaning. It gets tiring in the US to see every issue treated like a left vs. right political issue which is a completely artificial situation due to two-party domination and historical accidents of how they aligned on different issues, not a real map of people or ideas.

The contradictions inherent in the two-party lens includes how socially liberal tolerance, but conservative economic ideas are perfectly compatible. And how conservative economics are completely incompatible with the "conservative" military habit of outspending the entire world instead of investing more taxes in our own country where they will result in ever greater returns, and is how our country became great to begin with.)
ab3a
5 / 5 (3) Mar 12, 2015
Any time someone does a study on "Happiness" I am reminded of one of Woody Allen's short stories (written when he was in his 20s). In the story, a man was tasked with finding the happiest couple on earth. Eventually, he discovers them. They were as stupid as sheep.

I still laugh when I think about that story.
PhysicsMatter
5 / 5 (5) Mar 12, 2015
A Philosopher Said: Pessimism and optimism are hollow words invented by holders of status quo, for purpose of lecturing subdued or fools. In the world of elites absolute certainty is the only imperative. For them, there is no optimism, nor pessimism, nor negativism, instead, there is only hard-fisted persuasion and/or immediate demand under threat of deadly violence. Only one meaningful word remained: realism, and its state is attained when we realize true motivations of our rulers, which is to divide us into pessimists and optimists while holding on to their unquestioned authority.
Siblings Wachowski said in Matrix via Cypher: "Ignorance is bliss"
I think that's all there is to say about happiness and optimism.
dan42day
1 / 5 (4) Mar 12, 2015
It's been my experience that if you tell liberals that they are progressive and politically correct in every way, they will purr like kittens.
xstos
5 / 5 (4) Mar 13, 2015
@PhysicsMatter

You are exactly right. Labels such as conservative and liberal are divisive and inadequate. Our attempts to categorize the uncategorizable simply enables those in power to retain control. People love drawing lines in the sand and focusing their effort combating the opposing group, yet they both get washed away when the tide comes in.
cantdrive85
1.7 / 5 (6) Mar 13, 2015
Political liberals display greater happiness, study finds


Only because they are completely oblivious of reality...
Porgie
1 / 5 (4) Mar 13, 2015
Its because they are self deluded, don't get the real news and ignore the facts.
Beezor
3.9 / 5 (7) Mar 14, 2015
I think the article summarizes it well. Liberals DISPLAY a kind of happiness, although inside they are not really that happy. And Conservatives are more modest, not flouncing empty displays, but are much more content and happy inside.

Political liberals display greater happiness, study finds

Only because they are completely oblivious of reality...

Its because they are self deluded, don't get the real news and ignore the facts.


Really?
Let's see who conveniently ignored a very important part of the article...

"If you ask people to rate themselves across almost any set of positive traits - [...] - most will rate themselves above average. We observed that effect to be stronger among conservatives than liberals."

That's right! It's you, whom I assume to be conservatives, who conveniently ignored that part about how conservatives tend to be more self-deluded and self-aggrandizing.

Oh the irony!
Beezor
3.4 / 5 (5) Mar 14, 2015
I think the article summarizes it well. Liberals DISPLAY a kind of happiness, although inside they are not really that happy. And Conservatives are more modest, not flouncing empty displays, but are much more content and happy inside.



Sure, must be why Utah and its perfect families has peaks in anti-depressant use, eating disorders and whatnot. It's because conservatives are secretly happy but they don't show it because they're more modest, not flouncing empty displays. lol. Whatever.

You need to re-read the article again or just learn to read properly, because the article is very much contradicting you.

And that better example against your argument than the bitter comments made here by (I assume) conservatives.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.