Shedding additional light on earlier explorations in this forum of the subject of happiness is a new book written by Arthur Brooks that distills mountains of data on the subject. For one thing, politics and happiness turn out to be clearly correlated. But the correlation may not be what you think.
For starters, conservatives are happier than liberals. Much happier. And they have been for over 35 years. Almost twice as many who describe themselves as "conservative" or "very conservative" say they are "very happy" (44%) as those who consider themselves "liberal" or "very liberal" (25%). Brooks ascribes that result to three factors: conservatives are twice as likely to be married, twice as likely to attend church every week, and more likely to have children. They are NOT, however, richer than their more liberal, more miserable cohorts.
In fact, when the religious and political data are combined, a fascinating continuum of happiness appears. Religious conservatives are ten times more likely to report being "very happy" than "not too happy" (50% to 5%). Secular conservatives and religious liberals are about equally happy in the middle. And secular liberals are as likely to say they are "not too happy" as to say they are "very happy" (22% vs. 22%).
In addition, extremists on both sides are happier than their more moderate cohorts. Of those "extremely liberal," 35% say they are very happy (vs. 22% of the ordinary liberals) compared to 48% of extreme conservatives (vs. 43% of their less extreme brethren). Brooks attributes the extremists’ happiness to their conviction that they are right, which, he notes, often leads them to conclude that the other side is not merely wrong, but evil. Evidently two-thirds of America’s far left and half of the far right say they dislike not only the other side’s ideas, but also the people who hold them!
Brooks finds the determinant underlying happiness to be attitude. Conservatives are more optimistic, believing that if you work hard and play by the rules, you can succeed. Liberals, on the other hand, tend to focus on injustice and victimization, encouraging people to feel helpless and aggrieved.
So what does this mean for us hard-working lawyers? The striking correlation is with the well-established personality trait that lawyers exhibit en masse: pessimism, which, according to Brooks’ analysis, should mean that we are also a less happy lot.
And indeed we are. It is now well-documented that lawyers are less happy in their work and their personal lives than nearly every other profession surveyed.
Maybe we should get hitched, join a church and start a brood?
For a full book review of "Gross National Happiness," go to The Economist.