So much for the bluebird of happiness

The Pennsylvania primary has come and gone. The people have spoken or inadvertently burped, as the case may be. Anyway, what a relief that everybody around here can shut up for a while.

But it is not clear what we have learned in the process, except that the next time George Stephanopoulos appears with his grubby questions in a TV debate, someone should bring a fly swatter.

For all the talk of marginal non-issues, invented issues, complete nonsense pretending to be issues and even some real issues, one thing is left unanswered: Are conservatives really happier than liberals? That’s what I want to know.

This ridiculous proposition is peddled by conservatives from time to time, citing a couple of different sources. I suppose this is just the moment to consider it, given that the liberals on the losing side of the vote will be feeling depressed.

Just last Sunday, my conservative colleague Jack Kelly happily cited a new book by Syracuse University professor Arthur Brooks, “Gross National Happiness.” It, Jack says, cites statistics that show conservatives are much happier than liberals.

Two years ago, Washington Post columnist George F. Will, who is so happy that he wears a bow tie, a certain sign of being above the common tide of human misery, quoted from a Pew Research Center survey that also said conservatives are happier than liberals.

Well, I don’t buy it at all. It has always seemed to me that conservatives are happiest when they are hot and bothered about something. I long ago concluded that being constantly dyspeptic is the fun of it for them, the sole reason they hold their peculiar views. It is why they listen to talk radio, so that their underwear will ride up their rear quarters in indignation.

What else can one assume when they go to such extraordinary lengths to invent issues to be irritated about? Who but cranky types care about the alleged threat of gay marriage, for example? It’s simple to me: If you don’t approve of gay marriage, don’t marry a gay person, but in the meantime have the good manners to mind your own business.

Under my theory, it is no surprise that those parts of the country that are the most conservative are also the parts where country-and-western music is the most popular. Songs of cheating hearts, lost kids and dead dogs swell the conservative heart and make the conservative tear ducts gush with genuine American emotion. Ah, happiness takes wing on a song! What I think we have reflected in these academic findings about conservative rapture is a misunderstanding about the nature of happiness. It isn’t wallowing in your misery or enjoying your own grouchiness. It isn’t smugness either. Of course, that’s an easy mistake to make. As I regularly see from e-mails from conservative readers, there’s a lot of that going around.

But let us suppose that the bluebird of happiness has nestled on conservative door posts and not liberal ones. Why? I would argue that it is because “to think is to be full of sorrow,” as John Keats said of his own fervid time. It is because “ignorance is bliss,” a line that comes from another poet, Thomas Gray.

The trouble with this reasoning is it suggests that liberals are indeed the miserable ones because of the superior thinking they do. As one who is famous for superior thinking, let me refute my own argument at once.

I speak as one who has always been happy, even when I shouldn’t have been. Why? Because I am a naturally happy person. I do not mean to boast than I am happier than the average person, but I consider it a gift from the Almighty to be this absurdly happy.

I strongly suspect that political preferences really have nothing to do with being happy or not. It may or may not have to do with being married, as is suggested — although speaking as a professional husband, I do know the special joy of taking the trash out every day and being told that my table manners are not satisfactory.

What is this, my liberal friend? Why the long face? Your candidate did not do well in the primary? All shall be well. Nothing can reduce these United States to ruin. Even the Bush administration has not completely succeeded in this despite the efforts of a crack team of idiots doing one fool thing after another.

As musician Bobby McFerrin said, because Keats and Gray left him the opening: Don’t worry, be happy. The bluebird of happiness is flying high in the blue states.

(Reg Henry is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. E-mail rhenry(at)