What is the meaning of life? Ask a conservative; he likely knows why he is here more than a liberal, reveals a new study that took four decades to complete.
After gathering data from five samples across several countries, experts at the University of Southern California, Dornsife say having a sense of purpose in life may be predicted by one thing: one's political leanings.
The Happiness Gap Between Reds And Blues
In a new paper published in the Social Psychological and Personality Science journal, the team of researchers led by David Newman of the Mind and Society Center at USC Dornsife reports that political conservatives are more likely than liberals to feel that they are living more meaningful lives.
The researchers examined feelings of well-being as reported by 50,000 participants recruited from 16 countries over a span of 40 years.
The team asked the participants to provide their opinions on various issues. They also requested that the participants rate their political ideology on a scale of one to seven from extreme conservatism to extreme liberalism.
The participants also rated whether they agreed or disagreed with statements about their feelings of life purpose and satisfaction, such as "My life has a real purpose" and "I understand my life's meaning."
The researchers found that those who identified as political conservatives were more likely to feel a sense of purpose with their lives. They were also found to feel more life satisfaction than liberals.
The pattern remains when the participants were asked about their sense of purpose and life satisfaction in the last 24 hours or during their whole lives.
Why Are Conservatives Happier?
The researchers say that some aspect of leaning right may give people a sense of purpose. However, they cannot say as to what this could be.
To their surprise, it was not the belief in a higher power. After factoring in religious beliefs into the equation, the researchers found that conservatives were still more likely to feel that they are living meaningful lives than liberals.
Some hints could be found in whether a person identified more as a social conservative or an economic conservative.
The study finds that people who are more socially conservative (i.e. people who opposed gay rights or abortion) are more likely to find meaning in life. This reflects a major tenet in political conservatism: an adherence to traditional practices and resistance to change.
"Finding meaning in life is related to the sense or feeling that things are the way they should be, and that there is a sense of order," explains Newman. "If life feels chaotic, then that would likely dampen your sense that life is meaningful."
On the other hand, economic conservatives, or those who advocate for increased deregulation, privatization, and free trade, more likely say they are satisfied with their lives, reflecting another tenet of conservative ideology: rationalizing inequality.
Previous studies have found that people who identified as conservatives are less likely to be concerned about financial inequality than liberals. In 2008, for instance, one study showed that, as income inequality rose from the 1970s to 2000s, the more the happiness gap between conservatives and liberals grew.
Not An Excuse To Judge Another's State Of Mind
The findings, however, are not a reason to judge anyone's state of minds based on his political leanings. Newman says the results of the study do not apply to all conservatives or liberals.
There are other factors that can affect how one feels about the meaning or lack thereof in one's life. A variety of influences exists, from personality traits to one-time situations that can change one's current mood.
"It doesn't mean that every conservative finds a lot of meaning in their life and that every liberal is depressed," Newman says.