The Kettering Foundation just published my report on a three-year study I did on what motivates faculty to do civic engagement work: Civic Aspirations. In short, the study examines an important but little discussed component of civic engagement: public happiness.
Basically, public happiness refers to the energy and sense of flourishing people experience when they work with others on projects with public relevance. Anyone who has done community organizing or other forms of public work probably knows what I am talking about.
Hannah Arendt theorized the term in On Revolution, but it hasn’t gotten a lot of attention. Some people in the Kettering higher education work group wondered if the concept would help explain why faculty do civic engagement work on top of already heavy workloads, even though most colleges and universities do not reward that type of work.
To find out, I interviewed almost 40 faculty and discovered that every single one of them does experience public happiness from their civic engagement work — some at extremely high levels! Moreover, many spoke about their work in spiritual terms; it makes them feel like they are part of something much bigger than themselves. That is how meaningful it is to them. And it also helps them do their jobs better.
It was an interesting study to conduct, and through it I learned that I too experience public happiness, when I engage in community activism and progressive political work. In fact, that energy is what keeps me going.
Activism. Try it. You’ll like it!