Good news for
John McCain angry activists! The Boston Globe says that psychologists Tim Kasser and Malte Klar find “activism”, however futile, makes people feel better about themselves!
Psychologists curious about what fuels human happiness have looked at political engagement and political activism, and they’ve found that it provides people with a sense of empowerment, of community, of freedom, and of transcendence. Political activists, in other words, are all happy warriors…
Kasser and Klar ran a study in which they sought to get subjects to think like activists, then measured how it affected their short-term happiness. They gave their subjects, again college students, a survey about the food in the dining hall. Some were given questions that primed them to think about what Kasser and Klar call the “ethical-political aspects” of the food: For example, they read a statement asserting that the cafeteria should offer fair trade products, then were asked to rate the importance of two different rationales offered for that decision. Another group was given suggestions that focused on apolitical aspects like the variety and the taste of the food. Both groups were then asked to write a note to the cafeteria director about the aspect of the food that was most important to them.
The students were then tested on a variety of psychological well-being scales. And while there were not appreciable differences on most of the scales, on one, “vitality” – a measure of both well-being and motivation – the students primed to think like activists did indeed outperform those who were primed simply to think about food quality.
“What we found,” says Kasser, “was that the activist felt significantly more vital and alive and energized than did the nonactivist group.”
Complaining about cafeteria food is probably the perfect example of Sisyphean futility, after all. Being dreadful is the whole point to cafeteria food (“Cheap, fast, good: pick any two”), so if complaining about its political incorrectness is more satisfying than complaining about its tastelessness, might as well go with the whine that gives you a warm glow!
True happiness, Thomas Jefferson insisted, is private, not political, something found “in the lap and love of my family, in the society of my neighbours and my books, in the wholesome occupation of my farms and my affairs.” Of course, Jefferson himself, despite his family and farms and books and myriad private interests, was drawn time and time again back to public life and to politics, in a way that suggested a deeply personal yearning…
Hope you’re feeling better soon, John Cole.