Making a difference makes you happy

A series of studies find that activism brings pleasant emotions, greater life satisfaction, and more experiences of freedom, competence, and connection to others.

A new study found that activism leads to feeling more alert, alive, and satisfied with life.

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.

Statistical analyses showed that after controlling for demographic factors like age, race, political orientation, and education, study participants who scored higher in political activism also reported higher levels of personal well-being.

Specifically, political activism scores were associated with feeling more pleasant emotions, reporting greater life satisfaction, and having more experiences of freedom, competence, and connection to others.

Our application of past research on “psychological thriving” further showed that 28 percent of the politically active adults had reached this highest level of well-being, compared to 18 percent of the community sample.

Politicians and activists typically attempt to motivate ordinary citizens to participate in democracy on the basis of moral appeals or attempts to fix a problem. Our results suggest that it might also be worthwhile to highlight the internal rewards citizens can obtain from being politically engaged: A sense of satisfaction, the experience of pleasant emotions and of connection with others, and a feeling of aliveness.

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