Response to ‘Why are zealots so happy?’

Response to ‘Why are zealots so happy?’

Posted on May 29th, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Child Marmalade
I came across a recent blog post by C4Chaos titled Why are zealots so happy?

Basically, I do believe such presently uncontrollable factors as genetics do have a disproportionate influence on human experience and behavior, but I’m not sure how disproportionate it is.  This is something I’ve thought about a lot over the years and I did enjoy Seligman’s book even though I’m uncertain about his optimistic conclusions.  I want to look further into the happiness research to see what the latest evidence is showing.

C4Chaos touches upon how happiness fits into religion.  Here is the statistics(from the link in C4Chaos‘ blog) that relate to happy zealots(ie extremists):

SurveySource: 2004 General Social Survey

I would add the morality angle.  What has troubled me over the years is how the ideal of The Good is inextricably tangled with feeling good.  And, yet, I sense they aren’t identical even though there may be an influence.  If there is an influence, does the influence go both ways?  I can imagine how feeling out The Good may help one to feel good.  But by seeking to feel good can we feel out The Good?

Here is an insightful paper that relates:
http://www.ksharpe.com/Word/EP20.htm
The Sense of Happiness:
Biological Explanations and Ultimate Reality and Meaning
Kevin Sharpe

Here is my response to C4Chaos:

I do think there is a connection between discontentment and questioning, and also between discontentment and creatively seeing possibilities.  This translates as unhappy people are more motivated to ask new questions and to seek new answers.  Of course, there is a point of too much discontentment and unhappiness that shuts the mind down.

Here is a nice dialogue between Steven Pinker and Martin Seligman.
http://www.slate.com/?id=2072079&entry=2072402

I’ve read one of Seligman’s books.  His view is that human choice is greater than genetics.  The limitation of his writing is that its basically pop psychology and its only moderately backed up by research.  One thing I remember is that pessimists have a more realistic perception of reality, but optimists have more ability to create a different future.  Its funny that the optimists delusion is what makes them effective, but you don’t want to ask them for objective understanding.  On the other hand, the pessimist knows precisely what is going on, but doesn’t know how or feel capable of changing it.  (Interestingly, I’m a depressed person and I value the straight truth more than anything including happiness… which conforms to this view.)

However, despite the pessimist’s useful ability to see reality clearly, Seligman believes that everyone should strive to be optimistic.  He does concede that society needs a few pessimists to ground the optimists’ vision. But, as I remember, he seems to optimistically think that the strengths of pessimism can be carried over into a more optimistic attitude.

Steven Pinker comes at it from a pure scientific perspective.  He limits himself to what the research says.  And his book isn’t meant as inspirational writing.  I haven’t read his book, but I have recently come across some of the research done on happiness.  Here is an interesting one:
http://www.psych.umn.edu/psylabs/happness/happy.htm
Happiness is a Stochastic Phenomenon
David Lykken and Auke Tellegen
University of Minnesota
Psychological Science Vol.7, No. 3, May 1996

Abstract
“Happiness or subjective wellbeing was measured on a birth-record based sample of several thousand middle-aged twins using the Well Being (WB) scale of the Multidimensional Personality Questionnaire (MPQ). Neither socioeconomic status (SES), educational attainment, family income, marital status, nor an indicant of religious commitment could account for more than about 3% of the variance in WB. From 44% to 53% of the variance in WB, however, is associated with genetic variation. Based on the retest of smaller samples of twins after intervals of 4.5 and 10 years, we estimate that the heritability of the stable component of subjective wellbeing approaches 80%.”

Access_public Access: Public 6 Comments Print Post this!views (266)
 

Nicole : wakingdreamer 

about 10 hours later

Nicole said

wow. very interesting. i wonder why people think zealots are happy? the ones i know are a pretty miserable lot actually…

 

Marmalade : Gaia Child 

about 22 hours later

Marmalade said

Good question.  There is a lot of research out there, but I’m not a scientist.  Here is one paper that looked particularly interesting.

Religious orientation, religious Coping and happiness among UK adults

Christopher Alan Lewis, John Maltby and Liz Day
“In general, no significant associations were found between religiosity scores and happiness scores. However, both higher intrinsic orientation scores and positive religious coping were significantly associated with higher scores on the Oxford Happiness Questionnaire Short-Form. It is proposed that these differential findings are consistent with the theoretical distinction between subjective and psychological well-being. It is suggested that when religiosity is related to happiness, it is related to psychological well-being, which is thought to reflect human development, positive functioning and existential life challenges.”

Here is from the link in C4Chaos’ blog:
http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/05/14/the-politics-of-happiness-part-4/

“In the 2004 General Social Survey, 35 percent of people who said they were extremely liberal were very happy (versus 22 percent of people who were just liberal). At the same time, a whopping 48 percent of people who were “extremely conservative” gave this response (compared with 43 percent of non-extreme conservatives). Twenty-eight percent of people squarely in the middle – “slightly liberal” to “slightly conservative” – were very happy.”

“A happiness edge enjoyed by the extremes persists even if we control for the other relevant forces like income, education, race, religion, and so on.”

The conclusion of this author is based on 3 factors: evidence showing extremists as more happy than moderates, evidence showing conservatives as more happy than liberals, and evidence showing the religious as more happy than the non-religious.  He notes that conservative extremists are the happiest of any political sector and implies the connection with how vocally religious this group of people are.  Hence, religious zealots are happier.

The conclusion is fairly straightforward.  Any disagreements would be with the research he uses as evidence.  Is it accurate?

 

Marmalade : Gaia Child 

about 22 hours later

Marmalade said

Here are some comments from this section in the series that C4Chaos was linking to:
http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/05/14/the-politics-of-happiness-part-4/

1. May 14th,
2008
11:43 am

I haven’t read all 4 parts completely but I wonder if this is true all the time. In other words, could the extreme be happy right now because of current conditions in our country? Extreme left: “Change is coming, yoo-hoo!” Extreme right: “We have beaten off terrorists and liberals for 7 years, who would have thought?!”

- Posted by Marcus Lynn
4. May 14th,
2008
11:55 am

Interesting… but isn’t it likely that anyone who rates themselves as “extremely” anything is likely to have strong views in general, and therefore more likely to put “very happy” rather than just “happy”. It would be interesting to see the above graph with numbers of people who are “very UNhappy”

- Posted by Charles
17. May 14th,
2008
2:15 pm

To follow on what frankenduf(14) said:
Psychological studies have shown that when people believe they have control over their lives and actions, they are happier; whether or not they ever exercise that control. Could it be that extremists, because they are more likely to be “acting out”, feel that they are in greater control? Moderates, on the other hand, “moderate” their views to accomodate multiple other points-of-view; in essence, ceding control, and increasing their discomfort.

A second, not necessarily contradictory, explanation would be that cognitive dissonance causes most frustration. Other psychological studies have shown that the more extreme our beliefs, the more likely we are to attribute facts that belie our worldview to chicanery, and the more likely we are to become emotional rather than analytical in response to statements that contradict our ideas. Byt this theory, extremists will become angry, per frankenduf, release anger, and thus avoid unpleasant cognitive dissonance by avoiding considering inconvenient truths.

- Posted by misterb
33. May 16th,
2008
7:04 am

This analysis misses one significant point.

Combined with those in the “moderate” camps, left and right, are those who can’t bother to have strong political opinions. Among these are those who are depressed, clinically or otherwise.

This subset of depressed people can completely skew the numbers when it comes to associating happiness with political fervor.

- Posted by Greta
36. May 18th,
2008
11:47 am

2 comments:
#1: Depressed people tend to have a more accurate self-assessment of their abilities and performance. (I really hate to say “studies show…”, but they do. It’s a simply psychological experiment: give people a task to do, then ask them to rate their own performance.)
It’s certainly been my experience as well….

#2: Well, duh! The message of the study is not that conservatives are happier, it is that IN THE USA, conservatives are happier. It’s an easy bet that in a liberal society, the happiness distribution would be reversed. Anyway you cut it, compared to other nations, the US is politically & religiously conservative society.

So, yeah, you analyze the data controlling for income, education, race, religion, etc, so that you can conclude that conservatives are happier folks, but the results are only valid in the USA!

- Posted by Dennis

 

Nicole : wakingdreamer 

2 days later

Nicole said

interesting… i think there is some amount of truth in each comment… so who can say really what it all means?

 

Marmalade : Gaia Child 

2 days later

Marmalade said

Yes, interesting… but what to make of it?!  I find research about this very intriguing, but I don’t have the capacity to really understand it.  Statistics are so easily interpreted with one’s bias.  Seligman interprets it one way but there is no objective reason for him to interpret it that way.  He gives it an optimistic slant and he is probably the happier for it whether or not he is correct.  :)

 

Nicole : wakingdreamer 

3 days later

Nicole said

i have similar reservations to you about this whole optimism thing…

and yes, like archaeology where “rocks are plastic” or in other words, diggings can “reveal” many things depending on the assumptions of the scientist or interpreter, statistics can mean pretty much anything. So, IMO are often meaningless

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