The Smile on GOP Faces

“You will never be happier than you expect. To change your happiness, change your expectation.” — Bette Davis.

The most famous sentence in the Declaration of Independence, the sentence which captures the philosophy of the document andthe views of the signers of the Declaration, is: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The entire purpose of government is to insure these rights. The Declaration does not claim that happiness itself is a right. We can only demand of our government the scope of freedom necessary to pursue happiness.

Well, how successful are we, and how effective has our form of government been? Although happiness is not guaranteed, it would seem that those countries that appear to have happier citizens are the countries most adept at creating environments where happiness can be pursued. The Harris Polling Corporation has performed a number of inter-country polls that show that Americans are a happy lot, happier, in general, then their European counterparts.

A recent study of Americans by Pew Research confirms the general happiness of Americans. About 34% claim to be “very happy,” 50% are “fairly happy,” while only 15% were “not too happy,” 1% did not know. These divisions have been consistent since 1972, when the polling began, through many presidents and good and bad economic times.

The Pew polling suggests that even among Americans there exist systematic differences in degrees of happiness. Some of their results are expected. For example, married Americans are happier than unmarried ones. Approximately 43% of married Americans claim to be very happy, while only 24% of unmarried Americans make the same claim. The regularity of attendance at church is also directly correlated to happiness, with church regular attenders consistently happier than others who attend church sporadically or not at all.

Counter to the admonition that money cannot buy happiness, Pew’s research found that wealthier people are happier than the less affluent. Only 23% of people in families with less than $20,000 a year of income claim to be “very happy,” while 50% of those with household incomes over $150,000 are happy. Of course, the causal direction of this relationship is not clear. Does having more money make people happier, or are happier people more productive and adept at earning money

One interesting result of the Pew polling is that Republicans are consistently happier than their Democratic friends. About 45% of Republicans say they are very happy, while only 30% of Democrats do. At first glance one might guess that the difference between Republicans and Democrats might simply be a reflection of differences in income. If Republicans are more affluent that might explain their greater claim on happiness. However, according to Pew “If one controls for 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.”

Perhaps happiness is associated with a feeling of control over our lives, of being the masters of our own destinies. Certainly, this would explain why rich people are happier than poor ones. The more wealth one has the greater the scope of control over life one enjoys. More money means we can live where we wish to live and engage in those activities that please us. Does this feeling of control associated with happiness explain the differences between Republicans and Democrats?

The Republican ethos is associated with individuality and the conviction that we are independent agents, responsible for our own lives. In the Democratic perspective we are victims of others or of unfortunate circumstances. Victims require a government to protect people from misfortune.

Now Democrats would argue that they are trying to increase happiness by making community resources available to the less fortunate and there is merit to the argument. However, they can not consistently view the world as a nasty place from which we all need protection without internalizing dependence and victimhood. This greater perceived reliance on others, the notion that our well-being is in the control of outside forces, leads Democrats to feel powerless. Of course, there are Democrats that are self-reliant and Republicans who require government help. However the more the one embraces the general view that one is largely responsible for one’s own pursuit of happiness, the happier one is likelier to be.

This is one reason Democrats are so frustrated. They can’t seem to wipe the smile off of Republicans faces.

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