Blame Others, Hurt Yourself
By Bryan Caplan
A while back, I discussed some evidence that blaming people for your problems makes you feel worse about them:
If and who you blame for bad events matters too. In one study, “[V]ictims of severe accidents who blamed themselves for the accident were coping more successfully eight to twelve months afterward than those who did not, and… victims who blamed other people (as opposed to some nonspecific external cause) displayed especially low coping scores.” This rings so true to me that my head is still
spinning. Have I ever felt unhappy for long about something without blaming another person? I’m drawing a blank.
A recent paper on “Why Are Conservatives Happier Than Liberals?” suggests that my intuition generalizes rather well:
However, our research suggests that inequality takes a greater psychological toll on liberals than on conservatives, apparently because liberals lack ideological rationalizations that would help them frame inequality in a positive (or at least neutral) light. This could explain, in part, why conservative governments tend to increase inequality more than liberal governments (Bartels, 2004). In addition, our work offers a theoretical framework that could help to explain why the negative relation between inequality and happiness is stronger in Europe than it is in the United States. Alesina et al. (2004) proposed that the American emphasis on meritocratic ideology renders economic inequality less aversive to Americans than to Europeans (see also Hartz, 1955). Our studies provide support for the notion that ideological differences can, in fact, explain certain effects of inequality on happiness.
There is no reason to think that the effects we have identified here are unique to economic forms of inequality. Research suggests that highly egalitarian women are less happy in their marriages compared with their more traditional counterparts (Wilcox & Nock, 2006), apparently because they are more troubled by disparities in domestic labor (Coltrane, 2000).
Of course, happiness-causing beliefs and true beliefs are not necessarily the same. But they aren’t necessarily different, either. We’ve long been warned not to kill bearers of bad news. Happiness research suggests that we should also be careful not to kill bearers of good news. Evidence that your problems aren’t anyone else’s fault are a benefit for your heart and mind alike.