Happiness Could Depend on Political Beliefs

Feeling happy? Your answer might depend on your political beliefs.

Two Rutgers University–Camden researchers say conservative individuals tend to be happier than their liberal counterparts. On the other hand, people living in liberal countries are happier as a whole than those living in countries with conservative polices.

“The happiest countries tend to be welfare states and those with the least inequality between its citizens,” says Adam Okulicz-Kozaryn, an assistant professor of public policy at Rutgers–Camden.

Okulicz-Kozaryn and Oscar Holmes IV, an assistant professor of management at the Rutgers School of Business–Camden, recently collaborated on a study of people in 16 western European countries to determine their subjective well-being, or overall happiness and life satisfaction. They compared how people rated their own life satisfaction with each country’s policies.

“People want their elected leaders to enact policies that give them access to better healthcare, to protect against economic hardships, and other issues, so when that doesn’t happen, it affects a person’s happiness,” Holmes says. “As a whole, if a country has a liberal government, research shows that people in those countries report greater happiness.”

Okulicz-Kozaryn and Holmes analyzed more than one million public opinion surveys collected between 1970 and 2002 in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

According to their data, the Rutgers–Camden scholars say the world’s happiest country is Denmark.

“I think individuals who lean more to the right of the spectrum are happier because their focus is working hard, achieving their goals, and enjoying the fruits of their labor while people on the left tend to worry more about things like inequality, poverty, and pollution on a larger scale,” Okulicz-Kozaryn says.

The multi-disciplinary study was recently published in the Journal of Applied Psychology in the article, “The Subjective Well-Being Political Paradox: Happy Welfare States and Unhappy Liberals,” co-authored by Okulicz-Kozaryn, Holmes, and Derek Avery, a professor of human resource management at Temple University.

Okulicz-Kozaryn is a Gloucester Township resident whose research interests include public policy, public economics, income inequality, cultural economics, quality of life, and life satisfaction. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the Poznan School of Banking in Poland and his master’s degree from Poznan University of Economics. He received his doctoral degree from the University of Texas at Dallas.  

A Cherry Hill resident, Holmes’s research interests include human resource management and organizational behavior. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Virginia Commonwealth University, master’s degrees from the University of Richmond and The University of Alabama, and his doctoral degree from The University of Alabama.

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