Smile, You're an Activist!

By Petré, Robin | In These Times, May 2010 | Go to article overview

Smile, You're an Activist!


Petré, Robin, In These Times


PEOPLE ENGAGED IN political activism are more likely to live happier and more fulfilling lives than the average person, according to two psychologists writing in a recent issue of the journal Political Psychology.

"There is something about activism itself that is beneficial for well-being," says Tim Kasser, co-author of the research paper, which is based on studies of college students. "We found that activists were feeling more autonomy and more personal growth. They also felt they had better relationships, more purpose in life, and they liked themselves better."

Kasser teaches psychology at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. His collaborator, Malte Klar, is a professor at the University of Göttingen in Germany. In one experiment, they asked one group of students to think about food in an ethical way- that is, about whether the food was traded fairly and organic. They asked a second group to think about whether they liked the taste of the food and its price. Both groups were then asked to write letters to the head of the dining services, discussing their particular perspective.

"The people who had been thinking and writing about the ethical aspects of the food ended up feeling more vital, alive and energetic than did the people who had just been writing about the more self-oriented, hedonistic aspects of the food," says Kasser, who adds the positive effects were clear despite the small amount of effort the students expended. "Basically, all they did was write a letter."

Activism fulfills human needs on several levels. According to the study, it satisfies one's eudaimonic needs - the need for a sense of meaning and purpose to life. More superficially, it fulfills the hedonic need to feel pleasure.

Kasser says that activism "does a fairly good job at satisfying" the four psychological needs that must be met for a person to be happy: autonomy, competence, security and connection to others.

"I don't doubt that part of the reason activism is good for people's well-being is that they experience higher levels of connection to other people," Kasser says. …

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