By John Hawkins
The fact that conservatives are happier than liberals has been so conclusively proven in research and so often discussed that it wouldn’t feel like breaking any new ground to even write about it. However, this outstanding piece by Musa al-Gharbi (Hat tip to Ann Coulter for the article) touches on the subject in the process of speculating about the enormous gap between conservatives and liberals in mental health. What we’re going to do is cover some particularly relevant portions of that article while adding some comments here. It’s really a great piece and it’s worth your time to read the whole thing:
Liberal girls tended to be significantly more depressed than boys, particularly after 2011. However, ideological differences swamped gender differences. Indeed, liberal boys were significantly more likely to report depression than conservatives of either gender. The authors also found that the more educated a teen’s family was, the more likely the young people were to be depressed, and the more dramatic their rise in depression was after 2012.
…Why is it that liberal teens are more consistently depressed than conservatives? Why might familial education correlate with heightened depression for liberal youth? Why was there a spike in depression (and a growing ideological divergence in depressive affect) after 2011, corresponding with the onset of the “Great Awokening”?
First of all, what al-Gharbi refers to as the “Great Awokening” was a dramatic increase in mental illness, woke politics, and behavioral changes that occurred at colleges across the country that was most likely driven by the digital syphilis that is social media. Social media has had an extraordinarily negative effect on American society and as I’ve said before, you could make a really good case for banning social media for the same reasons we ban meth and over-the-counter landmines. From here, al-Gharbi goes on to discuss some of the extensive research showing that conservatives are happier than liberals (click over to his article if you want to see the citations):
Although the study by Gimbrone et al. was focused on trends among young people, the well-being gap between conservatives and liberals is not unique to youth. The gap manifests clearly across all age groups and is present as far back as the polling goes. In the General Social Survey, for instance, there has been a consistent 10 percentage point gap between the share of conservatives versus liberals who report being “very happy” in virtually every iteration since 1972 (when the GSS was launched).
Academic research consistently finds the same pattern. Conservatives do not just report higher levels of happiness, they also report higher levels of meaning in their lives. The effects of conservatism seem to be enhanced when conservatives are surrounded by others like themselves. However, in an analysis looking at ninety countries from 1981 through 2014, the social psychologists Olga Stavrova and Maike Luhmann found “the positive association between conservative ideology and happiness only rarely reversed. Liberals were happier than conservatives in only 5 out of 92 countries and never in the United States.”
It is empirically unclear why this pattern is so ubiquitous, not just in the contemporary United States but also historically (virtually as far back as the record goes) and in most other geographical contexts as well. There are a handful of prominent theories.
Conservatives are more likely to be patriotic and religious. They are more likely to be (happily) married and less likely to divorce. Religiosity, in turn, correlates with greater subjective and objective well-being (here, here, here). So does patriotism. So does marriage. Consequently, some have argued that the apparent psychological benefit of conservatism actually comes from feeling deeper connections with one’s country, one’s family, and the Divine. On this model, conservatism itself would be largely incidental to the happiness gap. A liberal who was similarly religious, or patriotic, or had a similarly happy marriage, would be expected to have similar levels of happiness as conservative peers.
In a similar vein, studies have repeatedly found that conservatives—both politicians and laymen—tend to be more conventionally attractive than liberals (and have better sex lives). Moreover, people who are healthier in childhood have been shown to be more likely to become conservative as adults.
There are probably three things at play here that help explain why conservatives are happier than liberals.
The first is that certain things like being religious, patriotic, and married are simply more likely to lead to happiness and conservatives are more likely to do these things than liberals.
The 2nd is that the sort of people who want to preserve a system are the people who feel like they can prosper in it while those who want to change it are often those that are failing in it. If you are mentally unstable, lazy, an ugly woman, if you feel judged for being a deviant, etc., etc., you’re both more likely to be unhappy with the world as it is and thus drawn towards liberalism, which will try to rewrite the rules to turn people like you into winners.
Third, someone who believes in taking personal responsibility for their life is orders of magnitude more likely to improve their life and feel good about it than someone who believes that they’re a victim and how their life plays out is dependent on forces they can’t control.
If you just consider those three factors, it’s absolutely no surprise that conservatives are happier than liberals. From there, al-Gharbi starts getting into mental illness and the difference between liberals and conservatives on that count is staggering:
Conservatives report significantly higher levels of happiness than liberals. On the other end of the spectrum, liberals are significantly more likely to experience adverse mental and emotional conditions. Some have argued that these differences in negative psychic states may explain most of the persistent divergence between liberals and conservatives in subjective well-being measures.
In any case, investigations consistently find that people who identify with liberal ideology are significantly more likely than others to be depressed, anxious, and to rank high on neuroticism (here, here). Liberals are also much more likely than conservatives to be diagnosed with mental illnesses or disorders. As Jonathan Haidt recently illustrated with Pew Research data, these trends hold across genders and across age groups.
Contemporary young people are more likely to be diagnosed with a mental condition than older Americans. Women are more likely to be diagnosed with a psychiatric condition than men—and the gaps are much larger among contemporary cohorts as compared to earlier ones (incidentally, the political and ideological gap between men and women has grown over this same period). However, across all age groups and for both genders, liberals are roughly twice as likely as conservatives to report being diagnosed with a mental illness.
Just think about the ramifications of the fact that among liberals 18-29, more than 40% of men and women and over 50% of women have a mental health condition. How well does that bode for the workplace? For the kids they raise? For how well they run… ANYTHING? All too often, if you’re thinking, “Gee, they’re behaving like a crazy person,” it is entirely possible that it’s because they actually are a crazy person. The good news is that as people get older, many people with mental issues tend to get a better handle on them with experience. The bad news is that if you look at conservatives, moderates, and liberals that are 65+, the numbers for all of them, including liberals, were fairly small in real terms. On the other hand, young liberals are such a giant tidal wave of dysfunction that it’s almost impossible for them not to have a major negative impact on the country long-term.
At this point, al-Gharbi does quite a bit of speculating about what could be causing these problems on the Left. We’re going to cover some of the more interesting parts, but this certainly doesn’t do justice to everything he wrote:
For instance, there is some evidence that children who are maladjusted (angry, aggressive, otherwise antisocial) are more likely to align themselves with left-wing parties as adults. Other studies have found that people who experienced abuse, insecurity, and trauma as children were much more likely to identify as liberal as adults. These populations are also especially likely to report mental illness as adults. Hence, it could be that much of the correlation between liberalism and mental illness is driven by people with mental distress favoring liberal ideology over conservatism.
…In any case, although some combination of genetic/biological influences and an elective affinity between mental or emotional unwellness and left-wing political views may go a long way to explaining the general gaps in well-being between liberals and conservatives, they can do little to explain the huge and unilateral spike in depression among liberals in 2012, nor the divergent patterns between liberals and conservatives thereafter. Explaining these phenomena would require us to explore the extent to which ideology may influence mental illness (rather than vice-versa), and to account for how the influence of that ideology might’ve changed after 2011.
…However, positing that the “Great Awokening” may have influenced levels of reported mental distress seems to beg a more fundamental question: are there compelling, empirically-based reasons to suspect that liberalism does not just correlate with adverse psychological states but might actually exacerbate depression, anxiety, or other problems among those who embrace it? The short answer is yes.
Cross-cultural studies have shown that more liberal countries, and more liberal regions within countries, tend to have higher rates of mental disorders. It’s been theorized that reduced levels of social constraints may be a key factor driving this pattern. In contexts where traditional forms of life, traditional social roles, and social structures are undermined, the acts of self-presentation, self-management, and self-creation become much more demanding and fraught. This, it has been argued, contributes to heightened anxiety and depression within liberal areas.
Research consistently finds that the Americans who give most frequently, give the highest shares of their income, or donate specifically to causes to alleviate human poverty and suffering are those who are right-leaning and religious. Despite these gaps in behaviors, liberals have a broader sphere of moral concern and tend to feel higher levels of empathy (even if those sentiments don’t lead them to incur actual costs and risks on others’ behalf in the same manner as conservatives). Liberals tend to be troubled not just by the state of their own nation and community, but by the plight of animals and nature, of people and events in other countries, by hypothetical and projected future trends as well as historical injustices—most of which the typical person has little-to-no meaningful control or influence over. This can be a source of significant depression or anxiety (or “moral distress” to borrow a term from health care).
…Although liberals tend to be less emotionally stable than conservatives, they are also far more likely to prize emotionality and to dwell on their emotions and the emotions of others. They tend to react much more severely to unfortunate events—from public tragedies to political defeats to global catastrophes and beyond. Not only are their initial responses significantly more dramatic, but liberals are also adversely affected for longer periods of time.
…Politics may also undermine liberals’ social relationships (which are, themselves, important for mental health). Surveys consistently find that liberals have more politically homogenous communities and social networks. They are also far more willing to avoid, break off or curb relationships over political differences. White liberal women are especially likely to strike this posture (here, here, here, here). They also happen to report especially high levels of anxiety, depression, and other disorders compared to other Americans. This may not be a coincidence: a willingness to “cancel” one’s family and friends over political or ideological differences is unlikely to enhance one’s happiness or well-being.
…In many Left circles, great efforts are made to sensitize everyone to historical and ongoing bias and discrimination. Women and minorities are told to attribute negative outcomes in their lives to racism or sexism. They are encouraged to interpret ambiguous encounters or situations uncharitably (i.e., as manifestations of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.). These tendencies likely undermine the well-being of the very populations they are supposed to help.
Heightened perceptions of bias and discrimination are robustly associated with mental anguish, social strain, and adverse physical outcomes. The more people perceive themselves to be surrounded by others who harbor bias or hostility against them, and the more they view their life prospects as hostage to a system that is fundamentally rigged against them, the more likely they become to experience anxiety, depression, psychogenic and psychosomatic health problems, or to behave in antisocial ways.
On the one hand, this seems obvious. However, the implications are underappreciated: to the extent that certain strains of liberal ideology push adherents to perceive people and phenomena as racist, sexist, homophobic, etc.—when they otherwise would not have—this shift can predictably lead to increased levels of anxiety, depression, and other disorders.
Liberals engage in a lot of unhealthy thought patterns. A LOT OF THEM. They encourage people to think of themselves as victims, which also means those people have to think of other people who may not even know they exist as oppressors that are trying to keep them down. Charles Krauthammer once famously said:
It’s psychologically easier for conservatives to bear being surrounded by people they think are complete idiots than it is for liberals to believe that millions of people on the other side of the aisle are evil monsters that actively want to do them harm. Liberals also have a tendency to blame “isms” for all of their problems. They adopt all sorts of nonsensical, often fast-changing rules that you have to unquestioningly obey to be a liberal in good standing. “Charles? It’s Charlise now. She’s a girl and she has always been a girl. You better get her pronouns right, too, and I think they changed again. Also, you need to apologize for being white at diversity training and it doesn’t matter if your employee isn’t doing what you told her to do, you’re white and she’s Hispanic, so you really can’t understand what she’s going through, but if Chan does that, you can fire him over it because he’s Asian.” It just goes on and on.
Liberals are famously illogical and are constantly immersed in emotion, which is an unstable way to live. They also encourage each other to be exceedingly fragile. They want safe spaces, claim words are “violence” and have hissy fits when people they don’t agree with are allowed to talk at all. This is combined with the fact that liberals commonly eschew all sorts of time-tested behavioral rules and ways of thinking in many different areas like gender, pronouns, sexual mores, and social niceties among many other things. Making the rules of everything up, including biology, as you go along doesn’t lead to outcomes as good as sticking to what works.
Liberals are constantly trying to one-up each other when it comes to being “sensitive,” which often leads to them claiming to be offended by things most other people would hardly even notice and takes them so far down crazy rabbit holes that they end supporting tearing down statues of the Founding Fathers and sending male rapists to female prisons if they claim to be women. To navigate all of this, you almost have to be sociopathic, accept that it’s all a BS game you have to play, or become a little bit mentally unsound.
What all this leads to is an ugly feedback loop. As al-Gharbi noted, people that were “angry, aggressive, and otherwise antisocial” as kids are drawn to liberalism. So are highly emotional people and people who feel like they can’t cut it under the current system, which is certainly more likely to be the case if you’re talking about people with mental problems. Then, all these people are exposed to the maelstrom of crippling thought patterns, anxiety-producing interactions, and poor life choices that liberalism encourages and they all start to play into each other.
Mentally unhealthy people are drawn to liberalism AND liberalism makes people mentally unhealthy. It’s like taking one of the patients from “My 600 Pound Life” and locking them in a fully functional Sizzler Buffet to see what happens from there. We all know what happens from there, just like we all can see what liberalism does to people. Liberalism is not good for the country, not good for the world and it’s definitely not good for people with disordered minds.