Day in and day out, it can feel like staying out of the political crossfire is the best choice for our health. If political news generates headaches and induces stress, how could becoming more deeply involved possibly be good for us?
Whether it’s intuitive or not, there’s significant evidence that getting more deeply engaged has meaningful health benefits. In fact, research findings suggest that being more involved in civic life has very real – and positive – impact both physically and economically.
We’re not saying that the key to health and wealth is watching cable news 24/7 or pitching a tent in Washington. But there are real benefits to getting more civically engaged, whether it’s in your neighborhood, city, state or on a national level.
What the Research Says
On the health front, studies by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) found that civic engagement can lower the incidence of depression and even increase life expectancy:
“People’s engagement in society and their associations and networks, as well as the characteristics of their communities profoundly affect their quality of life. The attributes commonly discussed under the rubric “social capital”—political participation; engagement in community organizations; connecting with friends, family, and neighbors; and attitudes toward and relationships with neighbors, government, and groups unlike one’s own—are often associated with positive outcomes in many areas of life. These include physical health, altruism, compliance with the law, education, employment, and child welfare.”
If that isn’t convincing enough, a 2012 study by the National Conference on Citizenship found that “states with high social cohesion had unemployment rates two percentage points lower than their less connected and trusting counterparts, even when controlling for demographics and economic factors.” (“Social cohesion” is defined as trusting neighbors, talking to and helping neighbors, and socializing with family and friends).
Another CNCS study found that people who volunteer in their communities have “a 27 percent higher likelihood of finding a job after being out of work than non-volunteers. Volunteers without a high school diploma have a 51 percent higher likelihood of finding employment.”
But How Can I Get Started?
The options for engagement extend far beyond activities related to political parties and elections. Contributing to “civic health” involves everything from reaching out to neighbors in need, to volunteering at a local school, to attending a town hall meeting. They all contribute to strengthening America’s health, prosperity and resilience – while boosting our own individual wellness.
Want to learn more about how you can contribute to civic health in your community? Check out the tools, programs and partnerships at the National Conference on Citizenship – a nonpartisan organization chartered by the U.S. Congress in 1946 to strengthen civic life. You can read up on an overview of their civic health program, or learn about what's happening in your state.
The bottom line takeaway from this research? Today’s politics may be making us all feel sick, but the only path to authentic health and prosperity, individually and as a nation, is through more mainstream citizens coming off the sidelines to actively participate in our democracy!