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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Are Lutherans Happy?

They are??? If so, it's likely because they're parents or because they're
right of center, according to Arthur C. Brooks in GROSS NATIONAL HAPPINESS
(© 2008) .

I've been wondering about all this ever since the linguist George Lakoff (UC,
Berkeley) started ranting about the role of "strict fathers" and "nutturant parents" in some of his popular books on philosophy and politics (Philosophy in the Flesh, Don't Think of an Elephant, and THINKING POINTS)....

Comes now our Mr. Brooks to turn the Lakoff Hypothesis on its head ,
throw in a good dose of "victim mentality, and then come to the
odd conclusion that Conservatives have the upper hand
[ even Between Hilli and Obi !!! ]
by dint of their being HAPPY, and not even by dint of being "Rich"--whatever that means !?

But wait, there's hope for us Obedient Rebels! Although we know we're SPOSED TO
BE "Moderates," we also have been taught to Love our Enemies....thus there are
Lutheran outliers, people who look superficially conservative, but may in fact harbor hope of a more radical METANOIA/TURN in American and global politics, one which more closely resemble the Hebrew prophets than the Pop Evangelicals. The current R.I. Debate over Immigration is an incarnation of just this moral "Surge."

Before Martin Marty [another outlier] deconstructs all of this just one more
time for good measure, let me go on record by saying I think philosophically like an Orthodox Rabbi who suffers paradoxes happily: Brooks probably has it sorta right, but so does Lakoff along with people like Brian MacLaren, Diana Butler Bass, even Marcus Borg and the whole panpoly of cool CATS (Change Agent Trinitarians) who are running around the country from pow-wow to pow-wow to give this pursuit of Happyness more depth and authentic Evangelical--Prophetic meaning.

dave buehler | providence college

Now here's that "Lexington" column from THE ECONOMIST:


Lexington: The joys of parenthood

-- Why conservatives are happier than liberals

IN EVERY nursery there is one child known as the Biter. Who suffers the most
from this child's delinquency? Not his classmates, whose bite marks quickly
heal. It is the Biter's mum and dad, who endure sideways glances from other
parents when dropping him off in the morning and fret constantly that their own
poor parenting has produced a monster.

Arthur Brooks was once the father of a Biter. For a year, his son gnawed on
boys, girls, siblings, friends and so many guests that he had to be removed from
his own fourth birthday party. Mr Brooks worried, argued with his wife, lost
sleep and sought professional help. So he speaks from experience when he says
that having children does not make you happy.

Happily for the reader, his book, �Gross National Happiness�, is not a memoir.
It is a subtle and engaging distillation of oceans of data. When researchers ask
parents what they enjoy, it turns out that they prefer almost anything to looking after their children. Eating, shopping,
exercising, cooking, praying and watching television were all rated more
pleasurable than watching the brats, even if they don't bite. As Mr Brooks puts
it: �There are many things in a parent's life that bring great joy. For example,
spending time away from [one's] children.�

Despite this, American parents are much more likely to be happy than
non-parents. This is for two reasons, argues Mr Brooks, an economist at Syracuse
University. Even if children are irksome now, they lend meaning to life in the
long term. And the kind of people who are happy are also more likely to have
children. Which leads on to Mr Brooks's most controversial finding: in America,
conservatives are happier than liberals.

Several books have been written about happiness in recent years. Some have tried
to discern which nations are the happiest. Many more purport to offer a
foolproof guide to self-fulfilment. Others wonder if the obsessive pursuit of happiness is itself making people miserable. Mr Brooks offers something different.
He writes only about Americans, thus avoiding the pitfalls of trying to figure
out, for example, whether Japanese people mean the same thing as Danes when they
say they are happy. And he writes intriguingly about the politics of happiness.

In 2004 Americans who called themselves �conservative� or �very conservative�
were nearly twice as likely to tell pollsters they were �very happy� as those
who considered themselves �liberal� or �very liberal� (44% versus 25%). One
might think this was because liberals were made wretched by George Bush. But the
data show that American conservatives have been consistently happier than
liberals for at least 35 years.

This is not because they are richer; they are not. Mr Brooks thinks three
factors are important. Conservatives are twice as likely as liberals to be
married and twice as likely to attend church every week. Married, religious
people are more likely than secular singles to be happy. They are also more likely to have children, which makes Mr Brooks confident
that the next generation will be at least as happy as the current one.

When religious and political differences are combined, the results are striking.
Secular liberals are as likely to say they are �not too happy� as to say they
are very happy (22% to 22%). Religious conservatives are ten times more likely
to report being very happy than not too happy (50% to 5%). Religious liberals
are about as happy as secular conservatives.

Why should this be so? Mr Brooks proposes that whatever their respective merits,
the conservative world view is more conducive to happiness than the liberal one
(in the American sense of both words). American conservatives tend to believe
that if you work hard and play by the rules, you can succeed. This makes them
more optimistic than liberals, more likely to feel in control of their lives and
therefore happier. American liberals, at their most pessimistic, stress the
injustice of the economic system, the crushing impersonal forces that keep the little guy down and what David
Mamet, a playwright, recently summed up as the belief that �everything is always
wrong�. Emphasising victimhood was noble during the 1950s and 1960s, says Mr
Brooks. By overturning Jim Crow laws, liberals gave the victims of foul
injustice greater control over their lives. But in as much as the American left
is now a coalition of groups that define themselves as the victims of social and
economic forces, and
in as much as its leaders encourage people to feel helpless and aggrieved, he
thinks they make America a glummer place.
Extreme happiness

So much for right versus left. Mr Brooks also finds that extremists of both
sides are happier than moderates. Some 35% of those who call themselves
�extremely liberal� say they are very happy, against only 22% of ordinary
liberals. For conservatives, the gap is smaller: 48% to 43%. Extremists are
happy, Mr Brooks reckons, because they are certain they are right. Alas, this
often leads them to conclude that the other side is not merely wrong, but evil. Some
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.

Oddly for a political writer, Mr Brooks thinks his country is doing pretty well.
Americans are mostly free to pursue happiness however they choose with little
interference from the state. Well-meaning coercion is less common than in
Europe, though it can still backfire spectacularly. He cites this example: a
county in Virginia recently banned giving food to the homeless unless it was
prepared in a county-approved kitchen, to prevent food poisoning. Churches
stopped ladling soup, and more homeless people were forced to scavenge in skips.
This hurt not only the hungry, but also the volunteers who might have found
satisfaction in helping them. The surest way to buy happiness, argues Mr Brooks,
is to give some of your time and money away.

� 2008 | Mar 27th 2008 � The Economist print edition

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