Politics – Psychology – Conservatism Makes You Happy – Until The Bubble Bursts – 19 July 2012


“Conservatism Makes You Happy”, says this Salon article. Well, I’m glad I was clued in about this. I guess I’d better forget my troubles – c’mon, get happy – and pack all my lefty beliefs away.

I love how Salon thinks that the researchers they’re quoting are the first people to make a connection between conservatism and happy-happy-joy-joy-think. Anyone who remembers Ronald Reagan’s “Morning Again in America” ads (very appropriately unveiled in 1984) knows that conservatives have long been peddling good feelings to willfully unreflective individuals. Never mind poverty, war and injustice. Things are great.

Bobby McFerrin, a liberal Democrat, was surprised and dismayed that George Bush Sr. used his song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” as a campaign theme song in 1988. Apparently no one at Salon remembers this either, or at least didn’t clue in that the reason Republicans loved that song was because it was their policy approach. Nothing’s going wrong. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. Concentrate on how you feel, not what you see.

But is it really a _failing_ of liberals and lefties that they don’t do more to show people activism for social change can put a smile on your face? Is that really the issue?

For starters, conservative happiness often isn’t exactly of the deepest variety. The headline “Stepford Wives Report Being Happy” would not impress us as much as “Conservatism Makes You Happy”. And when asked whether they’re happy or not, don’t you think more extreme conservatives would be more likely to go along with what convention dictates they answer, whether it’s actually true of how they feel or not?

Those of you that have known me for a long time may argue that I am the worst person to be making the case for liberals and the left from a happiness perspective. I have been, at various points in my life, pretty obviously unhappy. I won’t make the case that I have achieved tremendous contentment even now, but I will at least say, and mean, that I have moved from a bitter and pessimistic outlook on life to a more tough-minded optimism. It matters to me that my optimism is grounded in reality rather than phoniness, even if some people may not understand the difference and only care about the optimism part. But it may not matter to some of you. Unhappy = bad, happy = good. It might be your position that it should be that simple.

I don’t think it is, but let’s drop that point and approach this from another angle – what happens when ignoring reality in order to be happy stops working? What happens when the bubble bursts?

You want a look at what that looks like? Look at today’s young and angry. The angriest of them don’t come from a liberal/left background. On the contrary, they come from inside that conservative bubble, where everyone who tries hard enough succeeds no matter what. Poverty, war and injustice has put a gash in that bubble so impossible to ignore that the most determined efforts to rationalise its existence away will not succeed. Their swing to non-conservative beliefs is characterised by bad vibes about 100 times as intense as anything I’ve experienced. Indeed, there seems to be no bounds to how much they feel hosed by circumstances, or how reckless their prescriptions for change are because of the intensity of this feeling that’s been bred in them by their fall from bubble grace.

I do feel like I’m personally doing better than that, at least. I may not be as jazzed about the state of the world as the average bubble-dwelling conservative, but I also never experienced the sudden drop from “Morning Again In America” to “It Turns Out Everything Sucks”. Maybe I haven’t achieved “good vibes” either, but I get up in the morning and try to do something to move closer towards goals that matter to me, and believe something will work because it’s pointless to believe otherwise.

That strategy has worked a surprising number of times – and when it has, I think I have experienced more happiness than most right-wingers would know what to do with.

So bite me, Salon columnists. (But I say that with a smile on my face.)

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