What is the meaning of life? Ask a conservative

What is the meaning of life? Ask a conservative
More conservatives than liberals reported feeling a sense of purpose or that they live a meaningful life, according to a USC study. Credit: Letty Avila
"To be or not to be?" Hamlet asked aloud as he pondered the meaning of life.

Maybe he was a liberal.

A new USC Dornsife-led shows that conservatives, more so than liberals, report feeling that their lives are meaningful or have purpose.

"Finding 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 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

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.

Participants usually ranked their 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.

What does your lean mean?

Newman cautioned against making conclusions about anyone's state of mind and overall well-being based solely on their political leanings.

"It doesn't mean that every conservative finds a lot of meaning in their life and that every liberal is depressed," Newman said.

Other factors may influence whether someone feels that his or her life is meaningful. "These factors range from various personal characteristics such as how religious someone is to situational influences such as one's current mood," Newman said.


Explore further

A conservative environment makes conservatives happier

More information: David B. Newman et al, Conservatives Report Greater Meaning in Life Than Liberals, Social Psychological and Personality Science (2018). DOI: 10.1177/1948550618768241 , dx.doi.org/10.1177/1948550618768241
Citation: What is the meaning of life? Ask a conservative (2018, July 17) retrieved 25 April 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2018-07-life.html
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Jul 17, 2018
What's the meaning of life? Very conservatively, forty-two! But nothing matters very much, while everything matters a bit. So, in binary, 42 is 00110100 00110010 and 16 bits.

Jul 17, 2018
Seems like a stupid study. The base assumption, which is that meaning to life is related to 'things being the way they should be' is rather circular logic. It assumes up front that things should be a certain way, governed by some defined order. Which of course matches conservative thought better. The question would be quite meaningless to a liberal, who will accept that people can be happy without being forced into specific niches.

Jul 17, 2018
Eminent unreliability throughout much of this article.
Among other things, declaring that, "Finding meaning in life is related to the sense or feelings that things are the way they should be, and that there is a sense of order". Many accept "meaning in life" even if the world around them is in poor shape. They can see part of a purpose in life to be to improve things!
Among the most egregious faults, though, the sloppy reference to "conservative", "liberal". First, the meanings of "conservative" and "liberal" are not opposites! Too, what has come to be called Liberalism today is not a philosophy and only slightly related to "liberalism". Also, followers of what has come to be called Liberal today have laws and systems in government going their way. They don't want it to change! They are conservative now! And, too, all political parties are not philosophies, just scams by rich people to get the gullible to get their votes.

Jul 17, 2018
The construct of 'purpose' is surely an illusion. Spend a lifetime with a 'soul mate,' and construct what you think is meaning - only to watch them die a wretched death - sapped of life by cancer, or dementia. So we invent religion - to make believe that there really is some deeper purpose. There is a correlation between being conservative, and being religious - https://www.nytim...ausation
So bingo - of course there is a correlation between being conservative - and feeling more purpose in life. It doesn't mean you wont die of cancer. Just that you will be more philosophical - as you watch your body waste - and then die...

Jul 18, 2018
The question would be quite meaningless to a liberal, who will accept that people can be happy without being forced into specific niches.


Which is ironic, since the liberal then goes on to "progress" the society to in order to "improve" it according to their personal ideals about what life -should- be about.

There seems to be a fundamental contradiction, where on one hand values, morals, culture, ideas, are relative and there's no absolute means to measure anything except subjectively - and on the other hand these are the same people who go around banning Big Gulps and using social engineering to make things go -their- ways instead of anyone else's.

This fundamental disconnect stems from the understanding of what is "people". Whether you treat people as individuals, or as masses. Trees vs. forest. When you treat people collectively - imagine an arbitrarily outlined "collective will" - you can too easily pretend your personal opinions represent the whole.

Jul 18, 2018
The construct of 'purpose' is surely an illusion.


When people discover nihilism, the first thing they see is "Nothing has meaning, I can do whatever I want", then they discover "so can anyone else", so they discover "I have to make other people do what I want by any means necessary".

Then they discover, "If I can, so can they", and it becomes a battle of wills. Religion, philosophy, politics, moral/ethical arguments, physical force, appeals to emotion, plain old distraction and lying, all become different means to convince others of the authority of your own side.


Jul 18, 2018
What does your lean mean?

Some think life has meaning and some give meaning to their own lives.
The former just can't be arsed to take responsibility (or think) for themselves.

Jul 18, 2018
Eikka
all become different means to convince others of the authority of your own side
And of course conservatives, and religious folks would never do such a thing??? As an atheist - I don't view myself as a nihilist, but I do reject the notion of some external authority, that establishes a greater meaning in life. I see the conservatives as the ones who are constantly trying to impose their world view on others. I want the freedom to smoke a doobie. It is my body, and my right to treat it how I want. But conservatives are outraged by the idea of me taking responsibility for myself. Always wanting to dictate morality for me. Of course conservatives report more 'meaning' in life. They get to dictate that meaning. Jebuz tells us all how to behave properly - and we better damn listen..

Jul 18, 2018
""It doesn't mean that every conservative finds a lot of meaning in their life and that every liberal is depressed," Newman said."

'Nihilism is freedom.' Camus

Liberals ask 'how do I get out?' But then when they do the next question is 'where do I go?'

Many never get that far.

Jul 18, 2018
on the other hand these are the same people who go around banning Big Gulps and using social engineering to make things go -their- ways instead of anyone else's.


I tend to agree with you. A lot of current 'liberals' aren't very liberal in their thinking.

Semantics are always a problem when discussing things. I'd say that the concept is still correct: the research phrases things in a way that matches what people who consider themselves conservative think, and therefore reaches an obvious result.

Jul 18, 2018
And of course conservatives, and religious folks would never do such a thing???


That's the exact same reason why they do it.

But most people jump over the logic by going "Oh, if nihilism was true then we'd have a horrible time doing everything I don't want, therefore nihilism isn't true; and btw. my God is the right God."

But it's the same thing.

As an atheist - I don't view myself as a nihilist

Then you owe an explaination to the meaning and purpose of the world, and to why we should heed it. You might even be an existentialist, in saying "nothing matters, therefore we must invent a purpose for it!" - and then you're back down the same rabbit hole as the religionists.


Jul 18, 2018
Conservatism is not a political slogan but rather a progressive activity.

You are being conservative when you moderate your expectations and practice the civic virtue of improving the society that makes your lifestyle possible.

Liberalism is not a political slogan but rather an expression of optimism that rejects calcified social dogma.

You are being liberal when you want to help people better themselves through education and opportunity. To embrace change impelled by the Sciences and motivated by the Arts.

Those who have hijacked these terms as ideological weapons to force their ideological dogmatism on society? Are not your friends and they clearly do not have your best interests as their goal.

Jul 18, 2018
The point is, there's nothing in this world you can do except whatever you want.

The only question then is, what do you really want?

Liberalism is not a political slogan but rather an expression of optimism that rejects calcified social dogma.


In practice, liberalism is the rejection of the status quo in order to argue for your own. It's "betterment for the sake of (my) betterment" - or raising waves when there's no wind. Put simply: the political left has its purpose in inventing problems in order to argue why they should have the political and social power instead.

After all, if the society is running more or less okay, the government dissolves because there's no need to change anything - no social injustices to right, no new laws and regulations to make, and no reason for a bunch of politicians and pundits to get paid for it.

Jul 18, 2018
Then you owe an explaination to the meaning and purpose of the world, and to why we should heed it
Why? and Why? As an atheist - I do not recognize any external meaning to the world. I do not believe that we were put here by some intelligence, for some purpose. I do like existentialism. The idea that here we find ourselves - standing on this lump of rock - looking out at the universe - and wondering. Now we have to live on this lump of rock together - right? So we do have to work out some rules of co-existence. While co-existing (not fucking with each other) - I think it is existential - to try to create some meaning for ourselves - and to share that with each other. So you see - I do reject religion - but not moral principles - so I don't call myself a nihilist.

Jul 18, 2018
Phylos org?

Jul 19, 2018
In practice, liberalism is the rejection of the status quo in order to argue for your own.


So you're basically arguing that we should all be vassals to some lord and that slavery is a good thing. Right? Society worked fine with many such concepts, and if it wasn't for these meddling liberals we'd still be living the good life working for our benevolent masters instead of living in a cumbersome democracy.

Jul 19, 2018
Anyone who requires purpose in life is a sad and anal sort. The sort who has a need to believe things. The sort who gladly accepts a "Master", and immediately surrenders in service of a "purpose".

The sort who has neither the courage or the capacity to lead himself.

Jul 26, 2018
So you see - I do reject religion - but not moral principles - so I don't call myself a nihilist.


Fair enough.

But an existentialist still has to answer to the question of why their version should be accepted as the universal. That's the part where many people trip and become dogmatists, because they go through the whole thinking process and forget that other people are in the same situation as they, and are equally justified in coming up with their own meanings.

So you're in a catch-22. As an existentialist your moral principles aren't actually universal objective truths, but you have to act like they are to have them. If it's just you, then nobody else has any reason to agree with the whole system.

In other words, you have to invent a "religion" and then believe it while agreeing it to be false.

If you deny that your morals are arbitrarily made up, then you're no longer an existentialist but an acolyte of a secular religion.


Jul 26, 2018
The sort who has neither the courage or the capacity to lead himself.


To where?


Jul 28, 2018
As an existentialist your moral principles aren't actually universal objective truths
You have never heard of the golden rule? The point is that we have to live on this planet together. Either we agree on some framework of morality, or we have chaos. The morality is not - as you assert - arbitrary. I have no problem in others coming up with their own meaning. I think that is the ideal. It is how we behave towards each other that must be agreed on. You are of course welcome to believe in what every deity you choose. Just don't kill or hurt other people - cuz your deity told you too. Morality is about a shared set of values - that allow us to coexist. For me - nothing to do with an imaginary deity. I am not an acolyte of any religion.

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