The Connection Between Virtue and Happiness – Part 1

Catholic Candle note: The article below is part one of an examination of the connection of virtue and happiness.

Concerning The Happiness of Virtuous Persons;
The “Somewhat Happiness” of the “Somewhat Virtuous”;
And the Unhappiness of the Rest of Mankind

We would like to point out some interesting, attention-grabbing research about happiness.  It is something we already know (or should know), if we think about it – but perhaps we have not thought about it for a long time.  

As we know, our society is segmented and polarized.  So, this research examines different parts of society and seeks to discover in which part of society the people are happier, by their own description.

Usually, if someone says he is unhappy, he would not say this unless it were true, since people find it embarrassing to admit they are unhappy.  On the other hand, if a person says that he is happy, it is possible that he is lying in order to look better and more successful or to impress the people he knows. 

We see people put on a show of being happy, e.g., people who post photos of themselves in fancy or exotic surroundings, trying to convince themselves and their “Facebook friends” that they are happy and enviable.  There is a great deal of research showing this but that is not the subject we consider now.

So, although a person’s description of his state (happiness or unhappiness) can possibly be false, this research was interesting nonetheless and is consistent with the strong proofs that Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas give, showing that virtue causes happiness.

Happiness is the One Thing We Seek for Itself.  Other Things We Seek for the Sake of Happiness.

In Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, happiness is shown to be the Final End of all of our actions and is the reason for which all men desire everything else.  In other words, although we value other things such as pleasure, health, and honor, we only value them to the extent we suppose they will increase our happiness.

If a hermit lives in poverty (with poor food, wearing a rough and uncomfortable habit, and living in an unheated cell), yet, if he is extremely happy, then he lacks nothing.  Soft clothes or pampering food (or whatever similar goods) are irrelevant if those things do not add to his happiness.  Similarly, if a poor peasant family lives in deep mutual love and is exceedingly happy, what indeed do they lack or need?

Along the same line of thought, of what good are soft clothes or pampering food if a person is unhappy?  A good example of this is a person who has lost his best friend (e.g., to death).  A person who has lost such a best friend, or otherwise has great sorrow, cares nothing about pleasures and honors. 

Here is how St. Augustine, Doctor of the Church, before his own conversion, describes his loss of a friend:

My heart was black with grief.  Whatever I looked upon had the air of death.  My native place was a prison-house and my home a strange unhappiness.  The things we had done together became sheer torment without him.  My eyes were restless looking for him, but he was not there.  I hated all places because he was not in them.  They could not say “He will come soon,” as they would in his life when he was absent. I became a great enigma to myself and I was forever asking my soul why it was sad and why it disquieted me so sorely.

Confessions of St. Augustine, Book 4, chapter 4.

So, again, happiness is what all men want.  All other goods they could possess (pleasure, health, honor, etc.) don’t matter unless they add in some way to happiness.  For example, a pleasurable dinner is a good thing when one is happily sharing it with his true friend.

Happiness Requires Virtue.

As Aristotle shows in the Nicomachean Ethics, friendship is the crown of the virtuous life and is impossible without that virtuous life.[1]  Most people do not have genuine, significant friendships because such friendship requires genuine, significant virtue and most people do not have such virtue.  For a friendship that is not only genuine and significant but which is even very great, there is required as a condition, virtue which is also very great.

In his sermon in praise of the man who is living a virtuous life, St. John Chrysostom, Doctor of the Church, teaches that the virtuous life is the happy life.  Here are his words: the virtuous man is “the most blessed of men, even in this life as well as in that to come”.  Sermon #12 on Philippians, 3:17.

When people are unhappy, they try to distract themselves from their unhappiness (with things such as pleasures, travel, rock music, videos, video games, money, fast cars, fame, hallucinogenic drugs, abusing alcohol, etc.).

Money does not necessarily add to a person’s happiness and, on the “flip side”, if he is happy, he does not covet money.  As one investigation into lottery winners stated: “You would be blown away to see how many winners wish they’d never won ….”[2]  A news article quotes one lottery winner as follows: “Before committing suicide, he said, ‘Winning the lottery is the worst thing that ever happened to me.’ ”[3] 

Why did those unhappy people wish they never won the money?  Because it made them unhappy (or more unhappy).  Money is undesirable if/when it makes a person unhappy (or more unhappy) – because happiness is what we all seek. 

The most senior member of the Catholic Candle Team unwaveringly told his children (when he was raising them) that if someone would offer him a million dollars, he would refuse it.  He wisely knew that money is not happiness and does not cause happiness.

Further, many people know very little about what happiness is (just as they know so little about what friendship is).  So, they suppose pleasure or money brings happiness (just like they suppose that “friendship of pleasure” or “friendship of utility” is real friendship).[4]

A Person’s Tendency Toward Being a Conservative is in Some Way a Tendency Toward the Person Being Happy.

Having recalled these truths to our minds, we begin now to examine how those truths connect the happiness (or unhappiness) of a person to his political affiliation.  Is there any reason that we would expect that political conservatives would be happier than political liberals?

We know that the saints are the happiest people and that, as Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas prove, the virtuous life is the happy life.  This is also the teaching of St. John Chrysostom, as quoted above. 

So, to the extent that conservatives have any general tendency – even a slight one – to be more virtuous than liberals, then we would expect that there would be some tendency – at least a slight one – that conservatives would be happier than liberals.

Certainly, those who are labeled as political conservatives are usually not truly very conservative.  For example, President Ronald Reagan – who was perhaps the most conservative U.S. president in modern times – was divorced from his wife (Jane Wyman) and was “re-married” to First Lady Nancy Reagan.  True conservatives preserve the true traditional Catholic teaching on all subjects, including her teaching on morals and in the Church’s “social” encyclicals such as Pope Pius XI’s Quas Primas.

But although conservatives are usually not really very conservative or greatly virtuous, it does seem that they are relatively more conservative and comparatively more virtuous than liberals.  Thus, we would expect that most conservatives are not greatly happy because they are not greatly virtuous.  But we would expect that they are comparatively happier than liberals because they are relatively more virtuous.

Conservatives are More Likely to give some Role (or a Greater Role) to God in their Lives.

Most political conservatives are confused on matters of religion.  Most of them do not belong to the true Catholic religion.  Further, among even those conservatives (Republicans) who are Catholics, none (or almost none) of them practice the full traditions of the Catholic Church.  However, as compared to political liberals, it is more likely that God has some role in the lives of conservatives.  Granted, this is a low threshold for conservatives (viz., that they pay more attention to God than the liberals do).  But to the extent this is true, we would expect that this would result in a tendency toward greater happiness (or less unhappiness) than is true of liberals.

Conservatives are More Likely to Consider Themselves Bound by Fixed Moral Principles.

Similarly, political conservatives are more likely (as compared to liberals) to hold that there are fixed moral principles (rules of conduct) to which they must conform, even when they don’t feel like conforming to those principles.  Some of those conservatives’ moral principles are false – viz., where they diverge from Catholic moral principles.  However, conservatives are more likely to at least have some true moral principles and to consider themselves bound by them.  Thus, we would expect that this would result in at least some tendency that conservatives would be happier (or less unhappy) than is true of liberals.

Conservatives are (at least Somewhat More) likely to Follow Reason in Matters of Conduct.

Further, political conservatives are more likely than liberals to follow their reason on matters of their conduct.  For example, liberals are more likely to accept the absurd and rationally-incoherent position that a man becomes a woman if he decides he is one.  Conservatives are more likely to reject this claim.

Another example is liberals deciding it is fine to murder their babies if they don’t want those babies, and to call them “pieces of tissue” and merely a part of the woman’s body if those babies are unwanted.  (One pro-abortion U.S. Representative whom we know, explicitly compares an unborn baby to a gallbladder which needs to be removed.) 

But if liberals want to have a baby they speak differently and call him a preborn baby.  We see this in pro-abortion actresses when they want the baby that they are carrying, when (we are told) they post on social media that their baby will be due in six months (or whatever).

Reason is the highest power of the human soul.  Living in accordance with our highest faculty is the path of happiness (as Aristotle and St. Thomas prove).  So, although most conservatives are very far from living according to reason in every way, nonetheless, since political conservatives follow reason at least a little more than liberals do, we would expect that conservatives would generally be at least a little happier (or a little less unhappy) than liberals are.

Liberals are More Likely to Follow Some Version of Marxism.

The leftists are inexorably pushing Marxism, which is, essentially, a “gospel” of envy and hate, i.e., setting one group in society against another.[5]

Envy is one of the seven deadly sins.  The Marxists focus on issues such as income inequality – as if it is somehow wrong or unfair for someone else to have more money or possessions than we do.

Happiness both requires virtue as well as requires us to rid ourselves of vices (such as envy), which are the opposites of virtues.  Thus, the leftists/Marxists are essentially preaching a “gospel” which promotes vice and thus, we would expect that this would make liberals less happy (or more unhappy) than conservatives.

Liberals are More Likely to Follow some Version of Socialism.

The liberals are more likely to promote or accept socialism, which is promotion of the government redistributing wealth from those who earned it to those who did not.

Socialism strongly opposes justice, the Natural Law, and the teaching of the Catholic Church.  As St. Paul said:

If any man will not work, neither let him eat.

2 Thessalonians, 3:10.

While it is certainly not unjust (in fact, it is laudable) for a person to give alms to the needy from his own property, that is not socialism.  Rather, socialism is the system of voting or deciding that your neighbor (i.e., other people) must be compelled to give “alms” by confiscating his property through unjust taxes to give to those who the government decides are more deserving of the confiscated property.

So, although most conservatives are not truly and fully conservative, they at least see more clearly than liberals the evil of socialism.  In this way, such conservatives are at least comparatively more virtuous than liberals in these matters of justice.

Liberals are More Likely to Consider Themselves to be Victims.

Seeing that Marxism is, fundamentally, the “gospel of envy”,  the Democratic constituency are told that the unhappiness of their lives is due to being victims of other people, e.g., the rich.  This is effective for the Marxist leaders because unhappy people are more easily formed into protesters.  By contrast, happy people are disinclined to be agitated into protest and rioting.

But persons who consider themselves to be victims of other people’s greed and selfishness are more likely to feel discontented and unhappy.  This results in liberals considering themselves less happy (or more unhappy) because of their (so-called) “victimhood”.  This is obvious: if a man sees someone wearing a very nice coat, he is much more likely to feel discontented and unhappy about this if he thinks the coat should belong to him instead of the man who is wearing it.

Conservatives are More Likely to get Married and Remain Married – this Makes Them Happier.

Conservatives are more likely to marry and remain married.  Thus, their lives are happier and more stable.  This is because they are answering the calls of their vocations[6] which they have from God and by their human nature and the Natural Law.[7]  Marriage also allows for the lifetime best-friendship that God blesses spouses with. 

Here is how the Catholic Church traditionally expresses this truth in the marriage ceremony:

O God, by Whom Woman is joined to Man, and the partnership, ordained from the beginning, is endowed with such blessing that it alone was not withdrawn either by the punishment of original sin, nor by the sentence of the flood, graciously look upon this, Thy handmaid, who, about to be joined in wedlock, seeks Thy defense and protection.

Quoted from the nuptial blessing of the Rite of Holy Matrimony.

Research (Polling Data) about Happiness

Now let’s look at the polling data.  Every year in a poll, the Pew Research Center has asked the very same questions about happiness.  This started in 1972 and every year the results are substantially the same.  (As many Catholic Candle readers know, Pew is in no way a conservative organization.  Far from it!)

In one copy of the annual poll (2006), roughly one third of people said that they are “very happy”.[8]  (The question is worded: “Generally, how would you say things are these days in your life – would you say that you are very happy, pretty happy or not too happy?”)

Graph: About One Third of Americans Are Very Happy











As noted earlier in this article, most conservatives are not really very virtuous compared to the saints and so are not really very capable of much happiness.  However, this Pew polling data and this present Catholic Candle article focus on the relative happiness of one group of people in society, compared to a contrasting group.  Of this group (viz., the one-third of people who respond that they are “very happy”), what traits do they tend to have in common?

Comparing the Traits of Conservatives to the Traits of Those Persons Who Reported Being “Very Happy”

As discussed above, conservatives are more likely to give some role (or a greater role) to God in their lives.  Consistent with that, the Pew polling data shows that, one trait of those persons who report being “very happy”, is that they give God a greater role in their lives (as compared to those that answer that they are “not too happy”).  Although it is true that most people are confused in matters of religion nowadays, nonetheless it is relatively better for a person to give God a place in his life, even if practicing a false religion, as compared to giving God no place.  It is especially true that it is “the fool that said in his heart there is no God.’”  Psalm, 52.

In our age of confusion and for the purpose of the polling questions, Pew attempts to make tangible the idea of people giving God a greater role in life by asking people how often they go to church.  This is not a perfect proxy but it does shed some light on this issue.


Graph: Frequent Church-Goers Are Happier

It turns out that those who describe themselves as “very happy” are also persons that attend church more frequently than those who say that they are “not too happy”.  Such “church-goers” are in a relatively less-bad situation (compared to those who hold that there is no God or, if there is, they own Him nothing) because regular “church-goers” appears to recognize at least their own Natural Law duty toward God.

So, in a very rough sort of way, this poll shows what we know infallibly by our Holy Catholic Faith, viz., “Happy is that people whose God is the Lord.”  Psalm, 143.

Married people, on Average, are Happier than Other Adults.

The polling data shows that, besides giving God a larger role in their lives, another trait that happier adults have in common is that they are married.  We see in the Pew Research poll (below) that 43% of married people say that they are “very happy” whereas only 24% of unmarried people say they are “very happy”.  Pew Research says that “this has been a consistent finding for many years and many surveys”.  2006 Study, p.7.

This greater happiness (enjoyed by married people) is the same in both men and women, as you see below.  2006 Study page 21.


Further, this greater happiness is not only among newly-weds.  Rather, it persists throughout the entire marriage.  Pew Research 2006 Study page 22.

Conservatives have a “Happiness Advantage” Because They are more Likely to get Married and Remain Married – this Tends to Make Them Happier.

Whereas the polling data shows that, typically, people who are more likely to marry and remain married, are happier, this characteristic describes those who are more conservative (as discussed above). 

This is another reason why conservatives tend to be happier than liberals.  Of course, the happiness of the married (and conservatives) would be far greater if they were far more virtuous, as Aristotle proves in Nichomachean Ethics, Bk.10, ch.6. 

The adjective “Republican” largely means that a person is somewhat conservative, even though not as conservative as a Traditional Catholic would know he needs to be.  Likewise, “Democrat” tends to mean that a person is more liberal, as compared to a Republican.  This label tends to reflect the happiness gap that we have already seen on the charts concerning religion and marriage.  See the chart below.

The graph immediately above is taken from: Are We Happy Yet?, page 5, Pew Research Center, results can be found here:

This is not surprising, since those party affiliations tend to serve as proxies for those habits of character regarding greater or lesser morality and use of reason.

As Pew Research Center explains:

Some 45% of all Republicans report being very happy, compared with just 30% of Democrats and 29% of independents.  This finding has also been around a long time; Republicans have been happier than Democrats every year since the General Social Survey began taking its measurements in 1972.[9]  See the graph below.

One would be mistaken to think that the greater happiness of conservatives is because conservatives tend to have more money, although it is true that they do tend to have more money.  Common sense would tell us that conservatives would tend to have more money because greater wealth is a fruit of habits that are associated with conservative principles, e.g., hard work, delayed gratification, stable families, following the rules (i.e., having a “law and order” outlook), etc.

But money is not why conservatives are happier than liberals.  If we compare conservatives and liberals even in the same income brackets, the conservatives in every income bracket are more likely to say they are very happy, compared to liberals, by roughly the same proportions.  See the graph below.

The graph immediately above is taken from: Are We Happy Yet?, page 14, Pew Research Center, results can be found here:

In our godless, feminist, Marxist times, a person could (wrongly) suppose that perhaps the gender of the poll respondent played a role in the result that conservatives are happier than liberals.  But this is false.  Those respondents who are “very happy” were about the same in each gender. 

The graph immediately above is taken from: Are We Happy Yet?, page 27, Pew Research Center, results can be found here:

This makes sense because the happiness of the conservative life and principles is the life of relatively more virtue and use of reason and that is what makes people happier – both men and women, as Aristotle shows in the Nicomachean Ethics, Bk.10, ch.6.

This poll showing that Republicans are happier than Democrats is merely coming to the same fact as does Aristotle’s Ethics, but from a different direction.  Republicans, although very far from perfect, holy, and virtuous, are relatively more likely to emphasize the importance of God, virtue, and marriage, as compared to Democrats.

(To be continued)

[1]           See, Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Books 8-9 and St. Thomas Aquinas’s commentary on those chapters.

[4]           Such people have so-called “friendships” which are merely convenient, comfortable, transitory liaisons, and are counterfeit “friendships” that Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas call “friendships of pleasure” and “friendships of utility”.  See, Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Book 8, especially chapters 3-5, and St. Thomas’s commentary on Book 8 of this work.

These “friendships” are not real friendships because real friendships are based on love of the friend and a focus on the good for the friend.  By contrast, “friendships of pleasure” and “friendships of utility” are based on (and focus on) the good for me, not for the friend.  

Examples of so-called “friendships of pleasure” are those based on a mutual enjoyment of video games and competing against each other in racket ball, or enjoying someone’s company as a “shopping buddy”, a “travel buddy” or a “movie buddy” (so that the person does not have to engage in such activities alone).

“Friendships of utility” are not real friendships either, but are based on a good I can get out of association with that other person, e.g., when other people are impressed with me because they see that I know important people such as the particular “friend” (e.g., they see that I am a friend of the pope, the president, or the celebrity); or the “friend” sends business to the company that I operate resulting in profit; or he gives me gifts.  The so-called “friendship of utility” is reflected in the ironic remark which is sometimes made concerning a rich person, who is described as having “all of the friends that money can buy.”


So, the point made immediately above this footnote, is that some people think that enjoying pleasure is the same thing as true happiness just like they think that friendships of pleasure are true friendship.  Similarly, such people sometimes think that possessing money is true happiness, just as they think that their associations with others which bring them money are true friendships.

[5]           See, e.g., this article regarding the similarity between the program of the Marxists and Satan.


[6]           This article is about the nature of happiness in the natural order, comparing conservatives and liberals.  It is beyond the article’s scope to consider the happiness of those with the supernatural vocation to the religious life.  However, the vocation to the religious life is a great calling and brings great happiness when this call is answered generously.

[7]           Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, Suppl., Q.67, a.1.

[8]           Are We Happy Yet?, Pew Research Center, results can be found here: