The Pursuit of Happiness

Brad Miner | May 28, 2024

Sociology is the softest of the sciences – according to sociological surveys – and its practitioners, with noteworthy exceptions, largely lean – and more than lean – Left. Which may explain why a recent New York Times essay seems puzzled and not a little irritated by the fact, noted by the sociologists, that conservatives are measurably happier (and have been for half a century) than liberals in our radically rabid era. Their explanations tend towards the judgment that conservative happiness may be deplorable – for instance, that conservatives are (allegedly) less troubled than their liberal counterparts by inequality and injustice in the world. But it doesn’t take much insight into human existence to see that, on the question of happiness, the sociological dogs may be barking up several wrong sociological trees.

Let’s stipulate at the outset that, to a reflective mind, it’s not immediately evident what it means to be conservative or liberal. Pope Francis recently remarked in his CBS interview that conservatism is “a suicidal attitude,” characterizing conservatives as people whose hearts are “closed up inside a dogmatic box.” The world is wide, and it may indeed contain such strange creatures. But that rather illiberal judgment doesn’t come within a country mile of the vast majority of persons – inside or outside the Church – whom a sociologist would classify as a conservative.

Meanwhile, recent surveys show that almost all younger priests in the United States and large majorities in Germany (!) are what the pope would doubtless regard as conservative without showing any signs of clinging to the past and failing to engage the present. In fact, for many of us, their resistance to many currents in the world offers a viable shelter while the world – especially the Western world – seems hell-bent on suicide.

But for the sake of a manageable argument, let’s say that the sociologists have a street-level understanding of who counts as a conservative. And for the same reason, let’s accept that what they mean by such a person being happier than liberals is also – in ordinary, everyday terms – an adequate description. The reasons for this, however, seem to lie elsewhere than usually thought.

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