(Political) hapiness is not all it is cracked up to be

This is going to be one of those columns that when you finish, you’ll say to yourself, “I knew that.” Your intuition is about to be validated. The Pew Research Group has made it official. Republicans are happier than Democrats or independents. And those who embrace AND practice a religion are happier than atheists, agnostics and those who are too lazy to attend.

For Republicans this continues to be good news because they are happier, not by a little but by a lot. Fifty percent more Republicans than Democrats identify themselves as being very happy. Now don’t start with excuses like Republicans have more money than Democrats. Whether that is true or not, it is irrelevant to the “happiness” factor. Pew noted in its survey:

“If one controls household income, Republicans still hold a significant edge: that is poor Republicans are happier than poor Democrats, middle-income Republicans are happier than middle-income Democrats, and rich Republicans are happier than rich Democrats.”

Similarly, for those who embrace and practice a religion there is good news because they too are happier, not by a little, but by a lot. Forty percent more of those who embrace and practice a religion identify themselves as very happy than do those who are too lazy to attend. And sixty-five percent more of those who embrace and practice a religion identify themselves as very happy than do those who are agnostics or atheists.

Hold it. Let’s take another excuse away. The Pew survey found:

“The same regression analysis also finds that education, gender and race do not have a statistically significantly independent effect on predicting happiness, once all the other factors are controlled.”

In the end, it is what you choose to do, rather than who you are, that determines happiness.

For the longest time I’ve thought that Republicans were basically a happy lot. Conservatives, while they are quick to identify and complain about problems, tend to be optimistic about the future and their roles in that future. In other words, they believe that the problems can be solved — and that they can solve them. That optimism is reflected in a political philosophy where Republicans tend to be the advocates of ideas with a vision to a brighter tomorrow — that is both in their personal lives and their political philosophy. They tend to focus on improvement, advancement and success.

In contrast, I’ve always viewed the liberal leadership as unhappy, dour men and women who view the world as unfair, burdensome and their role as that of a victim. They seldom have new ideas and spend most of their time complaining that someone else’s proposals are “unfair.” They seem to oppose every attempt to fix failed programs (school reform, welfare reform, social security reform, education reforms, entitlement reform, tax reform, spending reform, etc.) choosing instead to simply advocate spending more on what did not work before. The last Democrat leader I can recall who could be called optimistic was President John F. Kennedy. But in the case of his brother Sen. Edward Kennedy – the nut did fall far from the tree.

Similarly, I have always thought that those who embrace a religion and actually practice that religion are happier than those who are atheists, agnostics or too lazy to attend. Those who embrace and practice a religion (admittedly I know mostly about the Christian and Jewish traditions) follow a couple of simple, fundamental beliefs. First they believe in the treatment of others with dignity and respect — that tends to lower the stress of conflict and encourage growth through understanding of what makes others unique. Second, they tend to believe in a spiritual appendage to their physical being and an afterlife that celebrates that spiritual self. For them, life is not an “end game” it is a journey to what is expected to be greater happiness in the ever after.

While atheists may believe in the dignity of man, it must be terribly depressing to contemplate that the end of life is the end of being. Agnostics, on the other hand, are so confused at to what to believe that they wallow in misgivings at every level. A life without certainty as to direction or purpose must be extraordinarily difficult. And for those who are too lazy to attend, the guilt of failing to follow what you know to be true can be terribly debilitating.

It would seem then that happiness can derive from such simple ideas as viewing the world as a problem that can be solved and embracing the idea that there is more to life than the limited time on earth.