Conservatives and Liberals Hold Different Views on the Meaning of Life
We’re living in an increasingly polarized world, and taking a peek into the other side’s mind feels more important than ever. Research has already found that conservatives value authority and purity more than liberals, who are more concerned about fairness and harm — a difference that can sometimes set us talking at cross-purposes. Now, there’s one more difference to add to the great divide in perspective: New research led by the University of California has found that conservatives are more likely to feel their lives have meaning and purpose.
The study, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, analyzed five data sets that spanned four decades and included people from 16 countries. Participants in the original studies were asked to rank their political leanings from 1 (extremely conservative) to 7 (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.”
Even after accounting for religious beliefs, which might influence whether a person’s feelings about their life’s meaning, the correlation stayed steady: Conservatives were more likely to feel they have a sense of purpose. This suggests, “that there is some unique aspect of political conservatism that provides people with meaning and purpose in life,” the study authors wrote.
The authors warn against reading too much into the findings beyond their face value; not all conservatives feel a life purpose, and those who do aren’t necessarily satisfied. Similarly, not all liberals are rudderless, and those who lack purpose aren’t necessarily depressed. Personal meaning and purpose is influenced by many things, ranging from “various personal characteristics, such as how religious someone is, to situational influences, such as one’s current mood,” said David Newman, a doctoral candidate at USC Dornsife’s Mind and Society Center.
Still, it’s an interesting finding to whip out at the next dinner party — provided you don’t mind the conversation taking a political or philosophical bent.
“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. “If life feels chaotic, then that would likely dampen your sense that life is meaningful.”