My wife and I were unfamiliar with the food co-op store on the border of Hanover and Lebanon, N.H., a couple of summers ago, which is why we inadvertently walked in through the door marked “exit.”
A man who was leaving with his purchases paused and scowled at our empty shopping cart, and then scowled even harder at us. He seemed to have exceptional control over his scowling muscles.
He had gray hair down below his shoulders, and he wore clothes that we instantly recognized from our childhoods in the 1960s. We're old enough to spot a genuine hippie when we see one.
This is not an unusual sight in northern New England. With due deference to the area around Woodstock, N.Y., I would argue that the space between Lake Champlain and the Maine coastline is the hippie capital of the East Coast. Up there, hippies slightly outnumber moose and greatly outnumber Republicans.
But the sight of that scowling gentleman made me wonder out loud to my long-suffering spouse: Are there any happy hippies?
The New York Times answered my question last month. No, there are not. Or at least there are not many happy hippies. Nor, for that matter, many happy political liberals of any vintage.
This seems like an extremely broad generalization. You can read the article and decide for yourself whether you buy the overall conclusion, which is that conservatives are apt to be happier than liberals, or the underlying rationale, which is that conservatives tend to be married and religiously observant at much higher rates than liberals, and that these traits are highly correlated with self-reported happiness.
I have my own theory, which I call the outrage factor. People who identify as liberal always seem to be outraged at something or other. It can be something of national interest, such as the fact that Fox News insists on calling itself a news channel, or it can be something trivial, like a couple of non-hippies walking through the wrong door at the food co-op.
It's a good thing the hippie didn't watch me shop for groceries. In a store that offers organic, fair-trade everything at no more than triple the price of ordinary food, my first stop is always the extensive collection of breads and pies, through which I will ingest an outrageous quantity of calories.
My next stop, the seafood counter, is even worse. The food co-op uses a classification system inspired by California's Monterey Bay Aquarium. All the seafood carries a color-coded label. Green labels mean the food is harvested in a sustainable manner that is harmless to marine mammals and Greenpeace activists (hence the label color, I think). Yellow labels mean roughly the same thing as yellow traffic lights. Maybe you know what that is; I don't. And I interpret red labels to mean “get it while you can, because this species may be extinct next month.” All my favorite seafood carries a red label, so that's what I buy. And that's what the food co-op sells me.
It's an outrage.
I have some very good friends who are truly committed to liberal causes. I know this because they send me every petition MoveOn sends them. They care about me, which is why they have infinite faith that someday, I will come to my senses and be as outraged as they are.
It's not likely. I just don't get worked up when other people build ugly houses or drive different cars or disagree with me. I write this column pretty much every day, which means someone disagrees with me pretty much every day. It's okay. I try to discuss serious issues cogently and fairly, but why get upset if someone dismisses my punditry as mindless blather? They might be right. My liberal friends don't seem to think that someone like, say, Mitt Romney, could ever be right about anything. Everything he says strikes them as outrageous.
Are conservatives really more laid back about life? Despite what The Times wrote, I'm not convinced. I think there may be something different at work. I suspect conservatives will tolerate almost anything if its outward appearance matches what they see as its inner truth.
Conservatives don't like anything President Obama has done, but they don't work themselves into an unhappy lather over it. He sounds like a liberal, he governs like a liberal, he appoints liberals. The product inside the box looks like the packaging on the outside. They won't vote for him, but they won't personally hate him, either. (Except the birthers. They're not conservative; they're delusional.)
Yet conservatives went ballistic over Bill Clinton during his presidency. On policy matters like welfare reform, he was a lot more conservative than Obama. He signed the Defense of Marriage Act, for heaven's sake. But they couldn't wait to impeach him, because they just couldn't abide the thought of having him in office. Why?
Well, from his accent to his eating habits, Clinton looked and sounded like a conservative - but he wasn't. The picture on the box did not match what was inside. And that seemed to outrage the conservatives. If The Times had explored the happiness topic about 15 years ago, the results might have been different.
The hippies were my cohort's older siblings and cousins, the ones who faced being drafted into service in Vietnam. They once smoked pot for fun and said they would never trust anyone over 30. Well, their kids are over 30 now and working for tech companies and investment banks, and the hippies themselves are smoking pot for pain relief. The free enterprise system the hippies reviled in their youth pays for their retirement in northern New England. They just hope it will support Social Security long enough to keep them buying overpriced organic produce and green-labeled fish at the food co-op.
If you're not outraged at that, you are probably the sort of person who thinks walking through the wrong door is not something to get outraged about.