A tweet from the researcher Brad Wilcox recently caught my attention. “Liberals,” he wrote, “are about 15 percentage points less likely” to be truly satisfied with their lives. On the same day that he tweeted out this compelling piece of information, Wilcox, a researcher studying family growth and economic trends, wrote an enlightening article expanding on this topic.
Liberals, he wrote, “are about 18 percentage points less likely to be ‘completely satisfied’ with their ‘mental health’ than conservatives.” Interestingly, he added, the issue of satisfaction, or lack thereof, appears to be especially “acute” for liberal women. According to the author, only 15 percent of liberals are “completely satisfied” with their lives and mental health. On the other hand, 31 percent of conservative women are “completely satisfied” with their lives, and 36 percent with their mental health.
As Wilcox noted, two family-related factors help explain this “ideological gap.” They are marital status and family satisfaction. In short, conservatives between the ages of 18-55 are “about 20 percentage points more likely to be married” than their liberal peers, “as well as 18 percentage points more likely to be satisfied with their families.” Marriage and family are directly associated with happiness, psychological and spiritual growth, and fewer mental health issues. Marriage is a key predictor of party identification; it’s also a key predictor of satisfaction.
The problem — one that is growing in size, I might add — facing liberals involves fully embracing a false narrative. Wilcox argued that too many on the left “have embraced the false narrative that the path to happiness runs counter to marriage and family life, not towards it.” Wrongly, they believe independence from the supposed shackles of domestic life will make them happier. They fall for the harmful narratives being pushed by mainstream media outlets, celebrating the dissolution of marriage and the rise of childless women. Wilcox criticized a recently published and widely read story by the author Molly Smith that appeared in Bloomberg. In the piece, Smith made a wholly inaccurate claim: Women who stay single and don’t have kids get richer and will continue to get richer. In reality, stressed Wilcox, married mothers tend to be richer.
Sure, some unmarried, childless women are happier and richer than their married, family-oriented counterparts. However, as Wilcox was eager to emphasize, progressives must “understand and appreciate” that these women are extreme outliers. The key to happiness, a philosophical conundrum that has perplexed the sharpest of minds for centuries, appears to involve a healthy marriage and a life built around a strong family unit. When it comes to actual meaning in life, although employment and job titles are mightily important, they can’t compete with the sanctity of marriage and childrearing. When lying on your deathbed, will you smile and remember closing that six-figure deal or those family vacations and Sunday dinners? Hopefully, the latter.
Another factor that contributes to happiness, one not discussed by Wilcox, involves faith. Very few, I’m sure, will be shocked to hear that conservatives are more religious than liberals. Like marriage, religiosity is strongly linked to happiness. As researchers at Pew have shown, those who actively participate in religious ceremonies (prayer, choir singing, etc.) “tend to be happier and more civically engaged than either religiously unaffiliated adults or inactive members of religious groups.” Although faith in a higher power certainly facilitates happiness, it’s the community aspect that seems to be the key ingredient. Millions of Americans on both sides of the political aisle live lonely existences. Coming together on a Sunday (or Friday or Saturday) and sharing an experience with people possessing similar values brings some much-needed joy into their lives.
Finally, as the social psychologist Jaime Napier has shown, the way we view the world has a direct impact on our levels of happiness. In an interview with PBS, Napier had this to say: “One of the biggest correlates with happiness” involves the “belief of a meritocracy, which is the belief that anybody who works hard can make it.” This belief, more than anything else, appears to be “the biggest predictor of happiness.”
Interestingly, it’s also “one of the biggest predictors of political ideology.” Not surprisingly, conservatives tend to score much higher on meritocratic beliefs than those on the left. Although we can sit around and debate the pros and cons of meritocracy and whether the U.S. is, in fact, built on a foundation of hereditary aristocracy, believing in a merit-based system is far more beneficial to one’s health than believing that our society is an inherently unjust place.
The U.S., like any other country, is far from perfect. That’s because perfection is an illusion. Inequality, as brutal as it may be, is a necessary part of existence. Life is a wicked game, full of winners and losers. The sooner we make peace with this fact, the happier we’ll grow to be.