The May 17/24 issue of World magazine featured an interview with Arthur Brooks, author of the book, Gross National Happiness. In this excerpt from the interview, Brooks examined factors that influence happiness and who is happier – conservatives or liberals, and religious or secular people.
Why am I happy?

World: OK – assuming the right definition of happiness and informative stats, what tends to make Americans happy?

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Brooks: There are three basic things that make people happy: meaning in their lives, control over their environment, and success in creating value in the world. And the way people get these things is not with money or power or fame – it is with their values. People who are serious about healthy values in their lives, families, and communities are much happier than others. The data say that these values come in eight categories: faith, family, personal liberty, private morality, non-materialism, opportunity, work, and service to others. Many journalists and academics dismiss these as just “cultural issues.” But what happy Americans know is that nothing is more important than these things for building true happiness.

Who is happier, conservatives or liberals?

World: You examine “the politics of happiness” in chapter 1 and come to some conclusions about liberals and conservatives that would surprise our academic colleagues who stereotype conservatives as emotionally rigid, insecure, and angry.
Brooks: I look at strange data results all day, but the evidence on liberals and conservatives surprised even me. People who say they are conservative or very conservative are nearly twice as likely to say they are “very happy,” than are people who call themselves liberal or very liberal. Conservatives are much less likely to say they are dissatisfied with themselves, that they are inclined to feel like a failure, or to be pessimistic about their futures. A 2007 survey even found that 58% of Republicans rated their mental health as “excellent,” versus just 38% of Democrats.

Who is happier, religious or secular types?
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World: The title of chapter 2, which concerns religion, is “Happiness is a gift from above.” What do you mean by that?
Brooks: Faith is an incredible predictor – and cause – of happiness. Religious people of all faiths are much, much happier than secularists, on average. In 2004, 43% of those who attended a house of worship at least once a week said they were “very happy” with their lives, versus 23% of those who attended seldom or never. The connection between faith and happiness holds regardless of one’s particular religion. One major 2000 survey revealed that observant Christians and Jews, along with members of a great many other religious traditions were all far more likely than secularists to say they were happy.

[Photo of Brooks courtesy of World magazine]