This view garners further support from the research on happiness. A Pew Research study, for instance, ties the Republican attainment of happiness advantage over Democrats in part to more marriage, greater family satisfaction and higher levels of religious attendance.
In a separate study of the conservative-liberal happiness gap, the psychologists Barry R. Schlenker, John Chambers and Bonnie Le explore liberal disengagement from family and faith. They note, “Liberals have become less happy over the last several decades, but this decline is associated with increasingly secular attitudes and actions (e.g., less religiosity, less likelihood of being married, and perhaps lessened belief in personal agency).”
In our survey, we found a modest gap between conservatives and liberals age 18 to 55 in being “very happy” — with 22 percent of conservatives reporting they are “very happy” compared with 17 percent of liberals (conservatives are also a bit more likely to say they are “pretty happy”). This gap is not explained by socioeconomic differences in income, race, age and gender between the two groups. But once we control for marriage, parenthood, family satisfaction, religious attendance and community satisfaction, the ideological gap in happiness disappears.
On Thanksgiving, a holiday so many of us spend with our loved ones, we emphasize that of all these social factors, the biggest factor predicting overall happiness is satisfaction with family life. Certainly this doesn’t determine the direction of causation, but the findings advance the case that support and social connections — particularly at home — are important for happiness.
As part of our research, we spoke to a number of Americans about family. The case of Katie, a 38-year-old Virginia married mother of two, illustrates the point. This right-leaning woman has noticed a difference between her life before and after she married and had children. Although she has less time for herself, she much prefers her new status as a married mother. She’s less lonely and finds more “purpose and meaning in the mundane day-to-day life, as well as exciting times when my kids hit certain milestones.”
She reported a “fuller happiness now” as a wife and mother, in part because it is shared with her husband, children and extended family members — as well as friends who are also raising families with whom, she said, she often has “a common ground to talk about.”
The connection between social ties and happiness also applies to those on the left. Julie, a 46-year-old, self-described progressive mother of four in Salt Lake City, has been married for more than two decades and is engaged in community volunteering; she’s also active in her local church. She works full time and balances a dizzying array of responsibilities. It’s her home life, however, where she finds “the greatest joys” and “the greatest struggles.” But each commitment, she said, “brings an opportunity to connect with people around me.”