Conservatives Feel More Purposeful Lives
Are liberals floundering in uncertainty over the meaning of life? A new study indicates that more conservatives feel a sense of purpose than liberals.
A press release from University of Southern California (USC) gives an edge to conservatives. Knowing the overwhelmingly left-leaning atmosphere in academia, one can only imagine if the university was pleased with what psychology doctoral candidate David Newman and co-authors Norbert Schwarz and Arthur Stone found. “What is the meaning of life? Ask a conservative,” reporter Emily Gersena writes for a headline. “Researchers find that, even after accounting for religious belief, the association between political leanings and a sense of purpose were strong.”
A new USC Dornsife-led psychology study shows that conservatives, more so than liberals, report feeling that their lives are meaningful or have purpose.
“Finding meaning in life is related to the sense or feeling that things are the way they should be, and that there is a sense of order,” said David Newman, a doctoral candidate at USC Dornsife’s Mind and Society Center. “If life feels chaotic, then that would likely dampen your sense that life is meaningful.”
The results, published on June 15 in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, were based on five studies examining how strongly conservatives and liberals feel that their lives have purpose.
Belief in God was a factor, but the statistics held even when controlling for religious belief. Here’s how the study was conducted:
Participants usually ranked their political ideology on a scale from one to seven, ranging from “extremely conservative” to “extremely liberal.” They also rated how much they agreed or disagreed with statements such as “my life has a real purpose” and “I understand my life’s meaning.”
The psychologists were aware that religious belief may be a factor and adjusted the results to account for it. Even then, the association between political leanings and sense of purpose held strong.
The results suggest “that there is some unique aspect of political conservatism that provides people with meaning and purpose in life,” the scientists wrote.
Results like this always include a degree of subjectivity. Newman cautioned that “It doesn’t mean that every conservative finds a lot of meaning in their life and that every liberal is depressed.” Gersena joked that Hamlet might have been a liberal when he pondered ‘To be or not to be’ and waffled about the meaning of life.
A Liberal Conjecture
On Live Science (a pro-Darwin, left-leaning science news site), reporter Brandon Specktor tried to explain away the results. He claims that the researchers say that conservatives are characterized by “a rationalization of inequality and the resistance to change.” As evidence, they point to conservative opposition to abortion and gay marriage. Somehow, they assert, this helps conservatives lead a less “chaotic” and predictable life:
“Finding meaning in life is related to the sense or feeling that things are the way they should be and that there is a sense of order,” Newman said in a statement. “If life feels chaotic, then that would likely dampen your sense that life is meaningful.”
Of course, this interpretation is all conjectural, Newman wrote in the study, and the link could ultimately be a matter of circumstance. For example, some common factor in the study participants’ childhoods could have led them to independently develop conservative viewpoints as well as feelings of satisfaction and purpose later on.
This admittedly conjectural interpretation cannot be sound, though, because one could just as easily ‘conjecture’ that radical adventurism into revolutionary politics could give liberals a sense of meaning and purpose, or that maintaining a predictable order could be boring for conservatives.
It should also be noted that opposition to abortion cannot fairly be described as “a rationalization of inequality” from the viewpoint of the unborn, many of whom are female. Conservatives look aghast at liberals’ rationalization of killing. Opposition to gay marriage, similarly, cannot be described simply as “resistance to change” because everybody is resistant to some forms of change, and not all change is good. Look at the resistance to President Trump’s policies right now, for instance, where it’s the Democrats’ turn to be described as “the party of resistance.”
An alternative interpretation is that everybody has a sense of meaning and purpose to some degree, but not all purposes are equally satisfying.
We discount psychology studies in general, and this is no exception. Survey questions, demeanor of the investigators, and participant selection can affect results. This one, however, does seem to have some points in its favor. For one, the sample size was very large and broad:
The scientists analyzed results from two nationally-representative samples and three additional samples in which well-being was assessed in various forms. Altogether, these studies encompassed thousands of participants from 16 countries and spanned four decades.
Another reason for taking it a bit more seriously than most psychology studies is that the results run contrary to academic expectations. Over the years, we have found liberal researchers arriving at (Well, what do you know!) liberal findings. This one apparently did not, although we don’t know the political leaning of these three researchers.
Maybe a tentative conclusion of the study is that conservatives have more evolutionary fitness. Natural selection rewards political conservatives. Hey liberals, you don’t want to fight what natural selection rewards, do you?
Regardless of what surveys say, it is vital and healthful to have a sense of purpose and meaning in life, as long as it is a righteous purpose. Knowing your Maker, and why He put you here, is an essential step to living a rich, meaningful, fulfilling life. The Bible talks extensively about living with purpose. Here are just a few samples:
Psalm 17:3 – “You have tried my heart, you have visited me by night, you have tested me, and you will find nothing; I have purposed that my mouth will not transgress.”
Psalm 57:2 – “I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me.”
Psalm 138:8 – “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.”
Proverbs 19:21 – “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.”
Proverbs 20:5 – “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.”
Isaiah 55:11 – “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
Daniel 1:8 – But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself.
John 18:37 (Jesus to Pilate) – “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”
Romans 8:28 – “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
Ephesians 6:22 – I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage your hearts.
Colossians 4:17 – And say to Archippus, “See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord.”
II Thessalonians 1:11-12 – “To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
James 4:5 – Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?
II Peter 1:3 – His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence