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Conservatives report, but liberals display, greater happiness

Science  13 Mar 2015:
Vol. 347, Issue 6227, pp. 1243-1246
DOI: 10.1126/science.1260817

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Be mindful of a self-reported gap

Happiness is a notoriously hard to pin down quantity possibly best described by the phrase, “I know it when I see it.” Self-reported ratings of happiness are generally higher for political conservatives in the United States than for those with more liberal leanings. Wojcik et al. examined three data sets based on behavioral measures, such as tweets and smiles. Despite self-reported claims to the contrary, liberals exhibited more happiness than their more conservative counterparts. For instance, as judged from their photographs on a business-oriented social network, more employees of the New York Times smiled genuinely than did those of the Wall Street Journal.

Science, this issue p. 1243

Abstract

Research suggesting that political conservatives are happier than political liberals has relied exclusively on self-report measures of subjective well-being. We show that this finding is fully mediated by conservatives’ self-enhancing style of self-report (study 1; N = 1433) and then describe three studies drawing from “big data” sources to assess liberal-conservative differences in happiness-related behavior (studies 2 to 4; N = 4936). Relative to conservatives, liberals more frequently used positive emotional language in their speech and smiled more intensely and genuinely in photographs. Our results were consistent across large samples of online survey takers, U.S. politicians, Twitter users, and LinkedIn users. Our findings illustrate the nuanced relationship between political ideology, self-enhancement, and happiness and illuminate the contradictory ways that happiness differences can manifest across behavior and self-reports.

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