A series of studies find that activism brings pleasant emotions, greater life satisfaction, and more experiences of freedom, competence, and connection to others.
By Tim Kasser
May 7, 2010
Democracy depends on the time, energy, and engagement of ordinary people. But it remains quite difficult to motivate average citizens even to vote, much less to engage in the more intensive forms of political activism needed to counteract powerful forces that work against rule by the people.
That’s why Malte Klar and I set out to determine whether people’s engagement in political activity might be associated with the motivator of personal well-being. In other words, despite the struggles inherent in political activism, does being politically active brings its own rewards in terms of happiness and life satisfaction? Such a relationship seemed plausible to us, given past studies illustrating the well-being benefits of volunteering and of having pro-social attitudes and values.
To test this possibility, Klar and I surveyed one group of 344 college students, and then a larger group of 718 adults (all United States residents, half of whom were recruited from an online activism registry, and the other half of whom were community members recruited to match the activists on several demographic variables). Subjects’ political activism was assessed via measures like their commitment to activism (e.g., “I take the time I need to engage in activism”) and their sense of identity as an activist (e.g., “Being an activist is central to who I am”). Subjects were also asked how often they planned to or had participated in activist behaviors—ranging from sending “a letter or email about a political issue to a public official” to higher-risk activities like engaging “in a political activity in which you knew you will be arrested.”