LOS ANGELES — Add “feeling a purpose in life” to the list of differences betweens conservatives and liberals. People who associate with one of those groups are more likely to believe their lives are meaningful, according to a new study. Can you guess who?
You’re right — if you chose the right-leaning segment. Researchers from the University of Southern California used data spanning four decades to determined conservatives tend to feel their lives are more defined than liberals. They reached their conclusion following several experiments that sought to draw a connection between well-being and political affiliation.
The authors examined data from five studies that included thousands of participants from 16 countries. Well-being was measured using participants’ assessments of life satisfaction, affect, and meaning and purpose in life. Individuals were polled on feelings of well-being when reflecting upon their entire life, the end of the day, and in the present moment. They were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with statements such as, “My life has a real purpose,” or “I understand my life’s meaning.”
Participants were also surveyed on their political ideologies using a scale of one to seven, with one end of the spectrum representing “extremely conservative,” the other “extremely liberal.
The authors found for each study, those who identified as conservative expressed feeling more meaning and purpose in life than liberal participants. Those results held true even when religious beliefs were taken into account.
“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,” says study co-author David Newman in a release. “If life feels chaotic, then that would likely dampen your sense that life is meaningful.”
Still, in this politically divisive climate, Newman says people shouldn’t make generalizations about someone who supports the opposite party based of the study’s results.
“It doesn’t mean that every conservative finds a lot of meaning in their life and that every liberal is depressed,” he says, pointing to other areas of life that can dictate one’s purpose. “These factors range from various personal characteristics such as how religious someone is to situational influences such as one’s current mood.”
Interestingly, the researchers found that purposeful feelings were more associated with social conservatism than economic conservatism.
The full study was published June 15, 2018 in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.
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