Mousa Alshanteer: Conservatives should share their happiness
When outlining the unalienable rights in our Constitution, Thomas Jefferson was primarily influenced by British philosopher John Locke’s prescription of life, liberty, and property. There is a reason Jefferson replaced property with “the pursuit of happiness.” Though property can potentially lend itself to happiness, true happiness arises from justified satisfaction – earned success, rather than learned helplessness. Conservatives ought to emphasize the following in order to regain the trust of the American people:
First, economic opportunity makes people happy. Indeed, those who earnestly believe that our country provides a good chance to improve their standard of living are 44 percent more likely than those who disagree to indicate that they are happy with their lives. Liberals are far less likely than conservatives to believe in economic opportunity. If a liberal and a conservative are similar in earned income, education, sex and race, the liberal is 20 percent less likely than the conservative to believe that genuine effort results in success among the disadvantaged. In fact, the Pew Research Center reported that conservatives are 68 percent more likely than liberals to indicate that they are happy with their lives. This is because conservatives believe that opportunity is available for every American, and that opportunity leads to happiness.
Second, economic equality does not make people happy. A government that increases taxes and regulations in order to decrease income disparities prevents the affluent from creating jobs, donating to charities, and stimulating businesses. In effect, a government that overly taxes and regulates is a government that likewise decreases opportunity. It follows that such a government inadvertently reduces happiness.
The notion that economic equality increases happiness is flawed in its assumption that money buys happiness. Americans have on average earned higher incomes over the past few decades. The untold truth, however, is that there has been no significant increase in happiness. In 1972, 30 percent of Americans indicated that they were happy while they earned a $25,000 annual salary on average. Thirty years later, average salaries increased by 50 percent, while happiness remained unchanged at 31 percent.
Third, continuous government assistance decreases, rather than increases, happiness. A government that emphasizes entitlements and assistance decreases opportunity for the disadvantaged since it consequently imparts dependency and helplessness. This learned helplessness, along with the resulting lack of opportunity, generates dissatisfaction rather than happiness, for it is truly earned success, not learned helplessness, that makes us happy. Such success arises from personal achievement, not from assistance continuously provided by the government. In 1972, the government spent nearly $4,300 for every American, and 30 years later, spent almost $2,600 more. In both 1972 and 2002, 31 percent of Americans indicated that they were happy. Thus, with greater government spending came no significant change in happiness.
Finally, faith and family are two of the most important indicators of happiness. If two individuals are demographically similar but one is married and the other is not, the married individual will be nearly 20 percent more likely to indicate happiness than the unmarried individual. Parents are also much happier than the childless, despite the fact that children can be more stressful at times. This is because bearing children compels parents to value their lives more. Additionally, religious individuals are almost twice as likely as secularists to be happy throughout their lives.
Such trends, as outlined by AEI President Arthur Brooks, indicate that conservatives are generally happier than liberals for a reason. Conservatives stand for faith, family, economic opportunity and independence from the government like no other political faction. If these aforementioned factors indeed permit us the unalienable right to pursue happiness, then why are we losing the trust of the American people?
If anything, this serves as a reminder that the people do not care for the statistics and economic trends that we repeat over and over; rather, they want to know whether or not we care about them and their happiness. The answer to this is, “Yes, we do.” We just have to do a better job of showing it.
Mousa Alshanteer is a freshman at Duke University and a 2012 graduate of High Point Central High School. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.