Monday, June 01, 2009

Happiness Is a Warm Republican

Here's something to chew on (if you still can) as you slide into the Buick and head on down to the local eatery for the early bird special.

Americans grow happier as they grow older. And a recent Pew Research Center survey shows that this trend is holding true even as the economy tiptoes like a drunk on the edge of the Grand Canyon.

What's more, the survey found, the rich are happier than the poor, whites are happier than blacks, married people are happier than unmarried folks and, drum roll please, Republicans are happier than Democrats.

That's great news. Next time I need cheering up, I'll follow the sounds of laughter to a group of rich old white people with grins on their faces and McCain/Palin bumper stickers on their cars.

The findings equating Republicanism with bliss cut against the grain a bit. Some of my perceptions were formed at my first real job in journalism editing the letters to the editor at the San Francisco Examiner in 1963.

Even in those days, San Francisco was a bastion of liberalism. Come to think of it, San Francisco was probably left-leaning in 1863.

But I would estimate that 75 percent of the letter writers were from an audience that was older, conservative and unhappy as hell. So being young and impressionable, I came to the conclusion that when you reached a certain age, say 40, you became Republican and grumpy. And you wrote a lot of letters to newspapers.
Even today, if you want to know Republicans are thinking, you tune into the Fox News, which manages to maintain a high degree of outrage day after day. I mean, who would watch Bill O'Reilly if everyone was happy?

If you want to know what the Democrats are up to, you switch on Comedy Central where politics is a running gag. Head yuckmeisters John Stewart and Stephen Colbert draw ratings that would have made Walter Cronkite envious.

Maybe these pollsters equated humor with happiness. For example, former Arkansas Governor and GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is a pretty funny guy. Democratic Senator Barney Frank from Massachusetts is about as funny as a North Korean nuclear test.

Nonetheless, my assumptions are apparently wrong, according to the Pew people. About 45 percent of the Republicans said they were very happy, compared with 30 percent of Democrats.

Republicans have been happier in surveys going back to 1972, the Pew folks say. That could be attributable to the fact that the Republicans have held the White House for most of those years.

But not necessarily, according to the survey. "Republicans tend to have more money than Democrats and as we've already discovered people who have more money tend to be happier," the report states.

Even adjusting for income, however, poor Republicans and happier than poor Democrats and rich Republicans are happier than rich Democrats.

Here's what the Pew people say separates Republicans from Democrats:

Republicans have more money, they have more friends, they are more religious, they are healthier, they are more likely to be married, they like their communities better, they like their jobs more.

Wait, there's more. Republicans are more satisfied with their family life, they like the weather better, they're more likely to feel that individuals - rather than outside forces - control their own success or failure.

OK, so that makes Democrats broke, friendless, single, sickly, atheistic louts who dislike where they live and work and feel manipulated by unseen forces. And, oh yeah, they complain about the weather a lot.

That sounds a lot like journalists.

The Pew people conclude that "there is a growing body of scholarly research, not just in this country but around the world, which supports the basic finding of these Pew surveys: that Republicans (or conservatives) are happier than Democrats (or liberals), and that these gaps persist even after basic demographic factors have been controlled.

"At least in the United States, this partisan happiness gap has widened in recent years."

I guess this means after the Democrats cure the ailing economy, conclude two wars, defuse the nuclear ambitions of rogue nations and provide affordable health care to all, they can start working on the Happiness Gap.

As for me, I adhere to the words of Albert Schweitzer:

"Happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory."

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