What is the recipe for well-being? For “happiness”? Can a nice park make us happier? A shorter commute? More time spent in close communion with our families? The short answer is a resounding 'yes' to all the above.
The ingredients which provide people with the highest level of well-being are those that contribute to the benefits derived from robust social connections characterized by trust and social support.
On the flip side of the equation lie those who are lonely or otherwise estranged in their relationships.
Ed Diener, Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, the University of Utah, and Senior Scientist for the Gallup Organization and Dr. Robert Biswas-Diener say social connectedness benefits an individual's health in ways that surpass the benefits of other known public health factors such as exercise, avoiding obesity, and not smoking.
But it's negative social relationships which are the major source of brutal societal ills. Because policymakers have a specific duty and interest in creating socially cohesive communities, policy-makers and leaders need to understand that programs and policies can have a large impact on this sphere of life.
Social Well-Being: Research and Policy Recommendations, a study included in the Global Happiness Policy Report produced by the Global Happiness Council (GHC), addresses policy-relevant problems and solutions aimed at enhancing collective, worldwide wellbeing.
Some key findings include ways in which urban design and zoning can promote social inclusion and happy neighborhoods; sensible policies aimed at reducing public and private corruption and ways in which supporting healthy family relationships can be mitigated by prevention and treatment of family-related violence.
Social Relations as a Key Driver of Well-Being
Four decades worth of research has produced tens of thousands of published academic papers which hope to reveal the elements of human existence which impact well-being. So, what is the secret to “happiness”?
Of the many factors that influence well-being, one above all others emerges again and again like a particularly important influence. The “secret” to “happiness” - to the extent that there is one - may lie in the quality of our social relationships. Humans, as fundamentally social animals, need to live together in romantic relationships, family groups, neighborhoods, and communities.
Our innate and deep-seated need to enjoy strong social bonds with others means the influence of societal social strengths far exceeds the influence of life expectancy and income in importance.
Policies that support trust, cooperation, and reconciliation act as the singularly important pillars of good governance and flourishing societies.
It's indeed ironic that in our digital age which seems to allow for greater and more convenient connections, researchers have found instead a repeated set of patterns which indicate technology use appears to be associated with social withdrawal and loneliness.
That's why policies to promote social connections are of vital importance.
Social Well-Being: Research and Policy Recommendations examines key influences and obstacles to social well-being and suggests a two-part solution to addressing well-being at the societal level.
The study calls for investment in policies and programs to promote greater well-being and satisfaction from deliberate interventions to build well-being to the development of green spaces to opportunities for neighbors and communities to interact and contribute. The approaches suggested in work are all aimed at increasing social support and connectedness to positively affect the health of societies, and they present opportunities for cutting-edge research that tests the interventions with rigorous data collection techniques.
The recipe is complex and contains several ingredients:
● Societies need to measure the well-being of citizens to determine who is flourishing and who is suffering, and where and in what ways quality of life can be improved.
● Experimentation which will, through trials, collect outcome data so that their value can be determined in the particular context and culture.
● The development of a “Ministry of Well-Being” in all cultures by governments devoted specifically to the task of happiness.
● Urban design and mixed-use zoning to allows for “walkability” to shops, recreation, and workplaces
● Green spaces and attractive urban environments where people can relax, meet or engage in recreational or social activities.
● Community activities and neighborhood cohesion activities from Neighborhood Watch programs and volunteerism to community festivals.
● Protective, inexpensive but decent housing available to all citizens, including effective shelter from the weather.
● The elimination of corruption and nepotism and dishonesty which erodes the trust necessary for societies to function effectively.
● The encouraging of “prosocial behavior” via public service campaigns, media programming, and awards programs.
● Fighting for stronger close relationships to build strong families. Governments can influence the strength of these bonds with policies that eliminate family abuse and require mandatory arrests for abusers.
● Connecting the well-being agenda to the public health framework by fostering strong, supportive, and trusting relationships to, over the long haul, decrease health costs and increase prosocial behavior.
The success of our quest for "happiness" is, to a large extent, dependent on our ability to connect with our fellow human beings against the rising tide of technology and innovation.