The pursuit of happyness

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?


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?
arthur brooks.jpg

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]

31 thoughts on “The pursuit of happyness”

  1. I think it depends on the time of the survey. Of course liberals are unhappy- the administration is conservative and I’m sure many liberals feel despondent and in a complete whirlwind of chaos. It says above that feeling in control of life is a key to happiness, and in these times, liberals surely feel like the country is spinning out of control. If Obama wins, ask this question again- surely the happiness of conservatives will probably go down.
    About religion, I definitely see the point. Religion gives people hope, something to hold onto in hard times, and a guide to living a good life. However, some people just can’t find a connection to it, which is completely respectable (I think it’s impossible to notice that I’m of the “live and let live” mindset). I urge people to not look too deeply into this point and go out proselytizing (sp?)- some people just don’t want to be religious and nothing is more irking than someone trying to convince you that you’d be happier if you just found God, like it’s easy and happiness is always guaranteed.

  2. Apparently, if you don’t think that you’re “unhappy”, you just aren’t trying hard enough.
    And BTW, who ever promised us a rose garden?

  3. I agree with Ali. In my personal and professional life, I feel very happy, but in the world around me I feel like my political views and values are not represented or respected, and that makes me unhappy. When I see GLBT and atheist hate crimes, I don’t feel safe or secure. As an atheist, I also don’t have an instant social network as others with religion do (the church).
    That’s not to say I want to be conservative or a church-goer, but it’s ridiculous to say that liberals and atheists are unhappy when quite frankly, we’re not very welcomed in this country. Even the majority of our political leaders are moderate to conservative. Even so-called “democrats” often act and vote in moderate to conservative ways.
    I’m sorry, but you can’t just write a book about how it’s better to be a Christian conservative because those people are “happier” while disregarding all the reasons why liberals and atheists are unhappy.

  4. Ali, Edyt, Reality:
    Excuse me? The Congress is Democratically controlled and if anything they have made things much worse not better with all the Bush bashing and division they have caused. Fighting everything from the tax cuts, to the war, to privatizing SS, to protecting life, to perverting marriage, ad infinitum. Why, because they lust for power.
    You know, healing occurs when one admits they have a problem, not when they blame someone else.
    All three of you ladies conduct your lives as if there were no God. Ultimately that has very significant consequences. Who ya gonna blame when the chickens come home to roost? You were warned.

  5. HisMan,
    The Congress has a Democratic majority. However, if you follow the news you’ll see that Republicans do very much dominate many of the Congressional decisions. They are unwilling to compromise, and as such, cause more of the problems Congress faces.
    We do not live in a theocracy. So yes, I am going to become angry and unhappy when people like you and government officials attempt to make it one.

  6. “…you’d be happier if you just found God, like it’s easy and happiness is always guaranteed.”
    While I know of some people who would paint a relationship with God in that light, I would venture to say it’s simplistic. Our Lord is not one big Sugar Daddy in the sky as some would like to submit.
    Hisman’s first post referred to the Sermon on the Mount. In case you’re not familiar with that section of the bible, it’s also known as “The Beatitudes”. The B’s “respond to the natural desire for happiness.” (quote from the the catechism).
    If you have the opportunity to read it, one will notice that the promise of happiness comes with a price: mourning, persecution, hunger and thirsting for righteousness. In other words, it’s not all easy; some suffering is involved, in fact, guaranteed.
    My own take on it is that it’s God’s way of separating the boys from the men, or the women from the girls. One’s faith indeed needs to be mature in light of such remarkable obstacles.
    Then comes the question of “What is happiness?” Brooks points out 3 basic things that make people happy. On a human level, I would agree with him. The challenge for us as Christians is to get beyond the physical and arrive at true happiness, that is to say, Thee source of happiness.
    That’s why I get much consolation from the saint. They’ve been there, done that in incredible ways. Some of them lived in miserable circumstances, yet, they were “happy” in spite of that. Not because they were surrounded by misery, but because their true happiness lay beyond what could be perceived by the senses.
    I haven’t read the book, so maybe Brooks adressed that already.

  7. By the way, Jill, the cut link says “the pursuit of happyness” so you might want to fix the typo.

  8. “All three of you ladies conduct your lives as if there were no God. Ultimately that has very significant consequences. Who ya gonna blame when the chickens come home to roost? You were warned.”
    Wow. WOW. Are you kidding me? How do you know how I conduct my life? Are you bugging my house? Following me around? I’m a tad scared that you can make such a statement without knowing me. Turns out, I do conduct my life religiously, just as a Jew. Jews have different views on abortion. So I can still be a follower of God, but since it’s not the same God you believe in, I’m living poorly. That is some unfortunate thinking. See I said I was quitting this blog but that is just such an insane, judgmental statement to make on your part Hisman. Thanks for warning me! Edyt, Reality, who’s bringing the Tostitos for our party in hell?

  9. Edyt:In my personal and professional life, I feel very happy, but in the world around me I feel like my political views and values are not represented or respected, and that makes me unhappy. When I see GLBT and atheist hate crimes, I don’t feel safe or secure.
    What is an atheist hate crime? I didn’t know there was such a thing. You don’t feel safe or secure? I have no clue what you are referring to, I’m not doubting you, but I don’t understand. Maybe you can explain.

  10. @Janet: I was an atheist back in high school, and while I wasn’t physically attacked by other students (I went to a high school in South Dakota for a year)- I was harassed by other students. Verbally.
    See, I wasn’t a vocal atheist. Of course, people would ask where I went to church (because going to church is a *big* thing out there, and I was a “newbie” being a new kid, so they had to “feel me out” so to speak) and I honestly just said, “I do not go to church.” And people would ask why, and because I don’t like lying I would say, “Because I don’t believe in it.”
    So a couple of the girls who found out about this constantly nagged me to go to church with them. It was rude, because I never tried talking them out of their beliefs, it didn’t matter to me whether they had faith or not. Of course, they didn’t see it that way and some of them made it their *goal* to convert me to x-type of Christianity.
    Of course, the lone Jehovah’s Witness girl in my class just treated me like crap when she found out I was an atheist, and was always a massive snot to me and was generally rude.
    Sure, it wasn’t a “hate crime”, but it was darned disrespectful and annoying.

  11. Janet,
    What is an atheist hate crime? I didn’t know there was such a thing.You don’t feel safe or secure? I have no clue what you are referring to, I’m not doubting you, but I don’t understand. Maybe you can explain.
    Atheist hate crimes are the same as any other hate crime. I’ve read about quite a few, but often police don’t report them as “hate” crimes, since the definition is often used to describe someone with a specific religious belief (Judaism, Catholicism) and not someone without religious beliefs. Off the top of my head I remember one that was recorded as a hate crime, but it was in Canada, so they might report them differently. Justin Trottier was putting up posters for an event when he was attacked and beaten up. The posters were for some kind of secular/atheist meeting I think.
    And no, I don’t feel safe when the president of our country says that he doesn’t consider atheists citizens nor patriots. In schools and workplaces, atheists are often discriminated against, particularly when religious tests are used.
    Margaret Downey actually compiled a list of hundreds of incidents of discrimination and hate crimes against atheists here.
    She writes:
    One would think that any atheist who had experienced discrimination would be eager to submit an affidavit. Instead, the fear of suffering further discrimination as a

  12. I’m sorry, Rae. How cruel!!
    Glad to hear you had such a good time in Chicago!! I have to check out your pictures!

  13. From
    There is a widespread opinion that a person needs to believe in some higher power and an afterlife — either hope for an eternal reward in Heaven or fear of an eternal torture in Hell — in order to behave morally and honorably. These beliefs may be the cause of a widespread public opinion that Atheists must behave immorally, are poor citizens, and/or are personally rebelling against God.
    Atheists are widely despised across the U.S. There is a general consensus that no Atheist could ever be elected to any important political post in the country.
    The belief that Atheists should be discriminated against has been embedded in American law for centuries:
    Public office: Eight states (AR, MA, MD, NC, PA, SC, TN, and TX) have exclusionary language included in their Bill of Rights, Declaration of Rights, official oath of office, or in the body of their constitutions. Most of them specifically exclude all Atheists and Agnostics from holding public office. These phrases are historical relics, left over from earlier times. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution supersedes these statutory laws and sections of state constitutions. It thus nullifies the effect of the above clauses. Still, it would be almost impossible to get citizens of any of these states to amend their constitution to end the religious discrimination.
    Conscientious objector status: Throughout much of the 20th century, a person could not be recognized as a conscientious objector unless their beliefs against participating in a war were backed up by their religion which included a belief in God. Again, belief in any deity was sufficient. Since 1967, belief in God is no longer required.

  14. Hey Carla, I was hoping you would respond to my question on May 17 – New Poll/Old Poll. Thanks!

  15. Hi Edyt,
    Sometimes I am not in the mood for your word games, ya know? You want to figure out if I am a *gasp* homophobe!?! I need a nap.

  16. I just wanted to know how they were flaunting their sexuality in front of everyone.
    I don’t need to figure out anything about you being a homophobe.

  17. Well Carla, to have a problem with gays holding hands, hugging, even kissing, surely does make you sound homophobic.
    You know, since most people don’t mind if heterosexuals do the same thing.

  18. Dear Edyt,
    Homophobia would seem to me to mean a fear of gays. Phobia? I am not afraid, nor do I feel threatened and no, it doesn’t make me feel uncomfortable. Like I said, I have homosexuals in the family.
    That doesn’t mean I agree with children in public school ages K-12 being taught that homosexuality is normal.
    Got anything on abortion we could discuss?

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