Countering previous surveys based on political conservatives saying they are happier than liberals, UC Irvine psychologists have discovered in their own research that those on the left exhibit happier speech patterns and facial expressions.
The results–by Sean Wojcik, a doctoral student in Psychology & Social Behavior at UCI and lead author of the study, and co-authors Arpine Hovasapian and Peter Ditto of UCI, Jesse Graham of the University of Southern California and Matt Motyl of the University of Illinois at Chicago–appear in this month's Science.
"The so-called 'happiness gap' between liberals and conservatives is more complicated than we thought," Wojcik says in a university statement.
In previous self-reports of happiness, conservatives said they were happier on the whole than liberals, but measuring happiness that way can be inflated by the desire to see oneself in a positive light, say the researchers.
"If you want to know how happy someone is, one way to do it is to just ask them, and this logic has been relied upon heavily in research on subjective well-being," says Ditto, a professor of Psychology & Social Behavior. "But another way to think about it is that happy is as happy does, and looking at happiness-related behavior avoids the issue of someone striving to present him- or herself as a happy person."
The research team relied on "big data" sources: online survey takers, American politicians, and Twitter and LinkedIn users with ties to companies or organizations associated with either liberal (Planned Parenthood, for example) or conservative (Fox News) viewpoints. Millions of words from Congressional Record transcripts and the photographs of every member of Congress were analyzed, as were 47,000 tweets and nearly 500 photos from LinkedIn.
Based on this, liberals more frequently employed positive language in their speech and writing and smiled more intensely and genuinely in photographs, according to the psychologists.
"We were surprised by how consistently happiness-related behavior was predicted by having a liberal political ideology," Wojcik said. "We saw similar patterns of emotional language and smiling behavior among Congress members, Twitter users and LinkedIn users."
He was quick to note that self-reports of all kind of behavior often don't jibe with reality. "If you ask people to rate themselves across almost any set of positive traits–intelligence, social skills, even driving ability–most will rate themselves above average," Wojcik said. "We observed that effect to be stronger among conservatives than liberals."
Do you know where you'll find a lot of happy liberals? Laguna Beach.
Well, you found a lot of liberals there before the yuppies priced them all out of town. In any event, Laguna Beach is the setting for a Live Happy magazine and United Nations challenge on the International Day of Happiness, which is next Friday, March 20.
Everyone is invited to make the world a happier place through small acts like hugs, kind words or helping thy neighbor and then sharing the acts with the hashtag #HappyActs through March 20 via Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter.
There is also a physical wall to post #HappyActs at The Cliff, 577 South Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, where a live band performs on March 20. This is one of 35 #HappyActs walls around the country. For a complete list of cities, visit happyacts.org. (That's also where people and businesses can go to create their own #HappyActs walls.)
Live Happy will donate $1 to Big Brothers Big Sisters for every person who accepts the #HappyActs Challenge. The magazine is also giving "random surprise gifts of happiness" to participants leading up to March 20. "The more #HappyActs that each person shares online, the better chances they have to win," say organizers.
Wonder if they're liberals?