Feeling blue? Take up political activism, psychologists say

From the Vancouver Sun:

Fewer people are bothering to vote in Canada, and a new psychological study suggests the trend is bad for our emotional health…..

When it comes to politics, why are more of us becoming disengaged? Are we more cynical? Lazy? Self-absorbed? Distracted? Busy? Despairing? All of the above?

New psychological research suggests that rising indifference to politics among Canadians, as well as people in many parts of the world, may actually reflect a lack of personal happiness, an existential melancholy. In fact, the novel psychological experiments conducted by a U.S. psychologist and a German psychologist suggest that humans feel more satisfied and alive when they jump into political action, even at a relatively minor level.

There is something about social activism itself that is beneficial for well-being, says Tim Kasser, chair of psychology at Knox College in Illinois, who co-authored several research papers with Malte Klar, of the University of Gottingen in Germany.

People who are politically active have better relationships, more purpose in life and like themselves better, according to the studies, some of which were published in the journal Political Psychology.

“I don’t doubt that part of the reason activism is good for people’s wellbeing is that they experience higher levels of connection to other people,” Kasser said. “We are not trying to say the only way to increase your well-being is through political activism, but we are saying that it is a good one.”

One study of more than 1,000 individuals conducted by Kasser and Klar found that people who had engaged in political activism reported greater life satisfaction, sense of freedom and competence than those who had not.

Another of the duo’s experiments found that even short-term activism made people feel better. The researchers discovered college students who wrote letters to cafeteria managers about the ethical aspects of food production, such as whether the cafeteria supported “fair trade,” reported feeling more alert and energized than students who wrote to managers simply about the “hedonistic” aspect of the food.