The Washington Post reports:
Most studies show that wealthy people are marginally happier than poor ones. People with pets or children are no happier than those without. People with active sex lives are — surprise! — happier than those without. No single morsel of happiness data, though, is more intriguing than this: Republicans are happier than Democrats.
A 2006 Pew Research poll found that 45 percent of Republicans describe themselves as “very happy,” compared with only 30 percent of Democrats (and 29 percent of independents). This is a sizable gap and a remarkably consistent one, too. Republicans have been happier than Democrats every year since the General Social Survey, conducted biannually by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, began asking about happiness in 1972.
Why are Republicans happier? The Post considers several hypotheses: (1) Wealth: Maybe Republicans are richer. But the effect is robust even controlling for wealth. (2) Power: Republicans have been winning the Presidency. But Republicans are happier even when Democrats are in the White House. (3) Religion: Republicans are more likely to go to church, and church-going correlates strongly with happiness. So, this explains some, but only some, of the effect. (4) Marriage: Republicans are more likely to be married, and marriage correlates strongly with happiness. Again, this explains some but not all of the difference. (5) Ignorance: Maybe Republicans know less, and ignorance is bliss. I don’t know the data, but, in my experience, among PhDs, Republicans are far happier on average than Democrats. So, I conjecture that the difference will remain after controlling for education.
I’ll propose another explanation: I think it’s likely that happy people are more likely to be Republicans, while unhappy people are more likely to be Democrats, for unhappiness gives one an incentive to seek change, and happiness an incentive to resist it. But the causal link goes in the other direction as well, for Republicans stress freedom and individual responsibility, which lead people to feel in control and take action that changes their lives for the better, while Democrats assign blame to institutions, which makes people feel powerless and discourages them from undertaking ameliorative courses of action.
Perhaps the most intriguing point has little to do with explaining Republicans’ greater happiness but much to do with the pointlessness of Democratic policies from a utilitarian perspective:
Once in power, Democrats tend to focus on issues that, according to the science of happiness, have little effect on our contentment — income equality, for instance, and racial diversity. Neither is linked to greater happiness. Countries with large disparities between rich and poor are no less happy than more egalitarian ones, studies have found. And the happiest countries in the world tend to be homogeneous ones, such as Denmark and Iceland, not the ethnic melting pots that liberals celebrate.