Everyone has a different idea about their sense of wellbeing depending on the circumstances in their life at any given time.
For some it’s health and wellness or their degree of happiness while for others it might be the state of their finances or how to find more meaning in life.
When it comes to defining wellbeing, the answer is usually a bit closer to “all of the above” than one specific area of life.
Every year since 2001 Deakin University and Australian Unity have partnered to ask thousands of Australians how they’re doing. Known as The Australian Unity Wellbeing Index (AUWI), this data set gives us an insight into what makes us happy.
The AUWI asks questions that measure how satisfied we are with our subjective wellbeing across seven core areas of life – our standard of living (finances), achieving in life (our sense of purpose), relationships, health, future security, safety and connection to community.
These seven life areas present a holistic view of our lives. As they often impact one another, it’s recommended that we work on multiple areas to improve overall wellbeing. However, what the AUWI research consistently shows is that three of the seven areas have a bigger impact on overall wellbeing than the others.
These key life areas are personal relationships, standard of living (financial wellbeing) and sense of achieving in life (our sense of purpose), also known as the “Golden Triangle of Happiness”.
Personal relationships when it comes to wellbeing are less about quantity and more about quality. As social beings, having close connections helps us thrive. The AUWI consistently shows that people who live with a partner in a married or de facto relationship have higher wellbeing compared to other living arrangements.
Yet it is important to note that a relationship doesn’t have to be romantic to improve wellbeing. Instead, we see benefits when we nurture relationships with people we can share our lives with and rely on – whether that’s a life partner, close family member or simply a fulfilling friendship.
Having strong bonds with others also increases our resilience when times get tough and helps us in other areas of our wellbeing. For example, many of us will experience a challenging health issue at some stage of our lives, and while health isn’t part of the Golden Triangle of Happiness, the role that strong and supportive relationships play in having overall better wellbeing is clear.
“When people are able to stay close and connected with their loved ones while receiving care and have access to those key support networks, we see better outcomes in their health and wellbeing” says Prue Bowden, Chief Executive Officer of Home Health at Australian Unity.
Everyday needs covered
Similarly, having a good standard of living, or sense of financial wellbeing, can help us improve our overall wellbeing. While the jury is still out on whether money can buy happiness, there’s no argument that having enough money to meet everyday needs like nutritious food, stable housing and healthcare is essential. Beyond the basics, being able to access things like transport, open spaces, social outlets and places we feel safe and secure is also vital for our wellbeing. It’s also not just about how much money you earn, but how you manage it.
Finally, while each of these three life areas uniquely support our wellbeing, they can’t operate without one another.
For example, having strong relationships can increase our access to social supports that strengthen wellbeing. These social networks are important to employment, financial security and meaningful community engagement.
“At various points in our life, one of these core elements may take prominence, but keeping all three of them in balance is key to maintaining overall wellbeing,” says Bowden.