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Wellbeing of NZers startlingly low - study

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Older, female and financially stable New Zealanders have the highest wellbeing in New Zealand, a groundbreaking new social index has revealed.

And although the inaugural Sovereign Wellbeing Index shows that the wellbeing of New Zealanders is startlingly low compared with other countries, it confirms that five free and simple habits can boost our individual wellbeing.

The index was developed by AUT University’s Human Potential Centre in partnership with Sovereign as an alternative to measuring a country’s success through economic indicators such as GDP.

It’s the first national representation of how New Zealanders are faring on a personal and social level, and was created with the vision of helping to frame personal choices and public policy and action in New Zealand. Nearly 10,000 New Zealand adults were surveyed for the index.

"Our success as a nation and individually is not just about having money in the bank," says study leader Grant Schofield, professor of public health at AUT University.

"A good GDP is great, but it’s a means to an end. That end result is wellbeing. The challenge is to enable a society where people lead purposeful and meaningful lives."

Sovereign CEO Symon Brewis-Weston says the company chose to support New Zealand’s first wellbeing index because it wanted to better understand the challenges and opportunities the country faces in the area of health and wellbeing.

"We’re proud to be part of such a significant and worthwhile project, and one with relevance not only to ourselves as a life insurance provider, but to the nation as a whole. The health and wellbeing of New Zealanders has a direct impact on Sovereign as a business and also the communities in which we all live.

"This report challenges the traditional definition of ‘wellbeing’ and will provide new and valuable insight into how we really feel about ourselves and our lives."

Professor Schofield says wellbeing encompasses more than simply happiness. "It’s a measurement of how well we’re feeling and functioning in our lives - psychologically, physically and socially."

There was good news for older, female and wealthier New Zealanders - these groups were the most likely to be "flourishing" (having higher levels of wellbeing), with people in their seventies thriving more than any other age group.

The study found that people’s wellbeing tended to increase with income, but it also confirmed that five free actions (Five Winning Ways) contributed to higher wellbeing:

socially connecting with others;

giving time and resources to others;

appreciating and taking notice of our surroundings;

learning new things;

being physically active.

Those with "Super Wellbeing" - scoring in the top 25 per cent in wellbeing indicators - were also likely to have better general health, be non-smokers and exercisers, and have healthier diets and weights.

One of the most striking - and concerning - results was New Zealand’s low placing in international wellbeing rankings. When compared with surveys of 22 European countries using the same set of measurements, New Zealand consistently ranked near the bottom in personal and social wellbeing - far behind the Scandinavian countries in the lead.

We were fourth from the bottom in the overall wellbeing rankings, ahead of only Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ukraine. Norway, Switzerland and Denmark took the top three rankings respectively.

Our worst comparative result was in connecting within our communities - only a quarter of us felt close to people in our local area, sending us to the very bottom of the table. "It was a huge surprise to see New Zealand ranking so low," says Professor Schofield. "I hadn’t expected New Zealand to be the best, but I hadn’t expected we’d do as badly as we did. I think it comes down to our comparative lack of social connectedness and the fact that the gap is growing between the haves and the have-nots. We’re not the even and fair society we once thought we were.

"We need to start having discussions about the New Zealand we want to be, and how we can start to achieve that."

The index is drawn from an AUT survey last year of 9962 randomly selected New Zealanders aged 18 and older. It will continue to monitor the wellbeing of New Zealanders, and benchmark with the European results, over the next four years. Every New Zealander now has the chance to see 'how well they are living' by taking the wellbeing quiz on

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