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Gross national happiness
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Happiness is in the data. That doesn't bode well for folks on the political left.

As it goes, Arthur Brooks, a Syracuse University economics professor and author of the new book "Gross National Happiness," began mining happiness data back in his college days.

The prevailing wisdom then, Brooks told me, was that liberal folks were happier - that conservatives were close-minded, rigid and, therefore, less capable of happiness.

But as he dug through the data, he found the opposite to be true: Conservative Americans are nearly twice as likely to report being "very happy" as are liberals.

Why such a big happiness gap? Brooks said it has to do with worldview.

Conservatives hold more traditional values - faith, marriage, family, freedom, hard work. They believe in the individual and just want to be left alone. Like them or hate them, the traditional values they hold, the data show, are a source of happiness.

Liberals, on the other hand, are not as likely to marry, have children or go to church. They're far more likely to feel exploited by others. Lacking control over one's environment is a source of unhappiness.

Which ties into the presidential election.

Brooks said that both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have run campaigns based on grievance. Their appeal is to folks who feel victimized by social and economic forces - folks who want the government to impose more rules, regulations and mandates on the people who make them unhappy.

That's not to say Republicans haven't been guilty of a similar game. Brooks is quick to point out that they, too, used the largess of the federal trough to promise voters goodies in return for their votes.

That's the problem with elections.

"They're based on the assumption of unhappiness," he said. "Politicians focus on perceived wrongs rather than the things that are going well. Americans take for granted how well things really are going. Our economy may have slowed, but it is roaring compared to past economic downturns."

Nonetheless we focus on the negative and our politicians stoke our unhappiness all the more. They bribe us with our own money, promising to expand the government to address the grievances that they promote.

But we ought to be careful what we wish for.

As our government grows, you see, our freedom decreases, and one of the greatest sources of happiness is freedom - something else we take for granted in a country founded on the concept.

In any event, happiness is something to think about before you pull a lever in the voting booth. It's really this simple:

If you have a hopeful view of the future and wish to unleash the creativity and enthusiasm of the American spirit - if you want the government to stop taking so much of your money and stop meddling so much in everybody's lives - well, you're out of luck.

Sure, libertarian Ron Paul is promising to clamp down on government, but he doesn't stand a chance this fall. The only option is McCain, who is promising not to raise taxes or meddle with things as much as the Democrats.

And if you are pessimistic and believe that a free society allows nasty capitalists to exploit you and make you miserable, vote for Obama or Hillary. They promise to expand the reach of the federal government into every corner - they promise to monitor, intervene and punish.

But as the data show, more government equals less freedom and in the end you'll be made even less happy.

Obama gave us a perfect example. He knows that every time the capital gains tax is lowered, the government ends up receiving more revenue - this is because the lower rate gives more folks the incentive to risk their dough. And when they profit, so does the government.

Obama promises to raise the capital gains tax anyhow - he promises to punish citizens and the government and ultimately slow down economic growth - because doing so would be "fair."

Yeah, that's what we need more of: politicians and the government, not individuals, deciding what is fair in America.

That ought to make you happy.

Tom Purcell is a syndicated columnist. He can be e-mailed at