“Why bother?” This is how many people have recently been feeling about involvement in civic activities, doubting that any political or prosocial contribution on their part will make a difference.
Such understandable demoralization can darken one’s outlook and paralyze one’s sense of agency. But the opposite effect has been found to be true for civic engagement.
A recent study investigated the actual impact of four types of civic participation (pro-environmental behavior, informal helping behaviors, volunteering and charitable giving) on college students’ daily well-being as reported over the course of a week (Wray-Lake et al 2019).
The results showed that participants experienced greater well-being on days that they reported engaging in more helping and pro-environmental behaviors (charitable giving and volunteering did not have the same effect though higher overall composite civic engagement was associated with daily well-being).
Why do we feel better when we “bother” to engage as citizens?
The researchers found that the helping and environmental behaviors were associated with “psychological needs satisfaction.” According to self-determination theory, we all have basic needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness. When those needs are satisfied over time (as they were for the study participants who did informal helping behaviors and pro-environmental behaviors), the better we feel and the more likely we are to flourish.
Conclusions? Well-being is not necessarily contingent upon us having a “successful” outcome in the long-run at the systems level. The behaviors and activities that we enact volitionally and that satisfy our core drives towards connection with others and competence tend to be the ones that increase our morale and benefit our mental health.
The tech company BioCarbon Engineering in collaboration with the conservation nonprofit Worldview International Foundation has designed a drone potentially capable of planting up to 400,000 trees/day. Check out their work with mangrove saplings in Myanmar: