Kiwis rate their lives on wellbeing index

By Amelia Wade

Inaugural survey looks at how people across country live, give, connect and what they think of themselves.

Photo / Getty Images
Photo / Getty Images

Nearly 10,000 New Zealanders were surveyed for an inaugural wellbeing index that takes a wider look at how well they are functioning and prospering than traditional economic indicators such as GDP.

The index was developed by AUT University's Human Potential Centre in partnership with Sovereign.

It is the first large-scale assessment of how New Zealanders are faring on a personal and social level, and was undertaken with the vision of helping to frame personal choices and public policy and action in New Zealand.

The Herald had a look at the results.

Who feels the closest to people around them?

More than three-quarters of Aucklanders don't feel connected with their communities and New Zealand is the worst out of 23 nations for feeling close to the people in your local area.

People from Christchurch and Wellington fared only slightly better, while West Coasters had the strongest local connections, with more than 40 per cent saying they felt close to people in their local areas.

Research leader Professor Grant Schofield of AUT University's Human Potential Centre said the Kiwi dream of the quarter-acre section meant people were not working near their homes.

"The person-to-person interaction is something we've ignored when we've been building our societies. It's pretty hard to make friends with people when they're sitting in a car in front of you on the motorway."

And of the 22 European countries researchers compared New Zealand's results with, we were the bottom with 74.6 per cent of us not feeling close to people in our communities.

Slovakia came out on top, with more than 40 per cent of people feeling connected, followed by Hungary and Norway.

The UK was second to last, but still significantly ahead of New Zealand.

Who's flourishing?

The older and richer you are, the more likely you are to flourish.

Men who have a household income of $200,001 or more had the highest mean score on the Flourish Scale with 47.3 per cent.

And scores by region indicate that people in Taranaki are flourishing the least while those in the Bay of Plenty are flourishing the most. However, there was little variation in mean scores between other regions.

The research used a scale created by American father-son psychologist duo Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener, the latter known as "the Indiana Jones of Positive Psychology".

Flourishing by gender shows that compared with males, New Zealand females are flourishing more.

It also found European people report higher flourishing scores than Asian people but there were no differences between scores for Maori/ Pacific and European or Asian ethnic groups.

Who's depressed?

The country's most depressed people are in their 20s and those who have a household income of up to $10,000.

The survey used the Centre for Epidemiology 8-item Depression Scale where the lowest score is 0 and the highest is 24 for those who are the most distressed.

The total mean score was 7.2 - but for those aged between 20 and 29 that figure jumped by more than a full point. But the group that reported being the most depressed was women in the $5001-$10,000 household income bracket with a score of 10.2.

The West Coast has the highest levels of depressed mood and Otago and the Bay of Plenty the lowest.

Who gives the most?

People earning the most are not the ones who are the country's biggest givers, it's those with a modest mid-range salary.

Just over 66 per cent of people with a household income of more than $200,001 gave themselves a high score when asked how much they supported loved ones, whereas almost 75 per cent of New Zealanders earning between $30,000 and $40,000 a year give back often.

The report referred to research that found reciprocity, doing something nice for others, volunteering, or even just thanking someone promoted wellbeing. Maori were the ethnic group who gave back the most with 75 per cent, while Asian people gave the least (61.3 per cent).

And almost three-quarters of people living in Northland and Waikato provided help and support to others often but the report found little variation across other regions.

Who thinks they're the highest in society?

Women living in Gisborne rate themselves as being on the upper rungs of the social ladder more than any other region in the country.

But men with households pulling in a salary of more than $200,001 a year were the most likely of any other grouping to give themselves a high social ranking - 32.9 per cent rated themselves as being in the top end of society.

Survey respondents were asked to give themselves a score of 1-10 - 10 being the top of society. Overall, 13 per cent of New Zealanders gave themselves a top score.

The report found females' perceptions of social position were lower than males and that the proportion of Asian people who rate themselves near the top of society was higher than European people.

Who connects the most?

Just one in five people from Taranaki connect with someone else more than once a week.

The report said social relationships were critical for promoting wellbeing when they have "richer social networks and connect with others including friends, relatives, colleagues and neighbours".

Connecting was assessed using results from the question: "How often do you meet socially with friends, relatives or work colleagues?"

It found people in Taranaki connected the least and that about a quarter of those in the country's biggest cities, Auckland and Christchurch, connected at least once a week.

And fewer Asian people (26 per cent) are connecting regularly compared with Maori people who connected the most with 30.6 per cent.

Those who connect more also flourish more.

Who's learning the most?

Older people are learning the most, even more than those aged between 18 and 20. And those in their 30s are learning the least.

Continuous learning through life is important for wellbeing and its benefits include enhanced self-esteem, confidence, engagement and increased social connections, the report said.

And a smaller proportion of European people reported learning new things often compared with Maori/Pacific people and Asian people.

While there was little variation in learning by region, there was a difference found between Auckland and Canterbury. A larger proportion of Aucklanders (46.7 per cent) reported that they learn new things in their life regularly compared with those in Canterbury (41.3 per cent).

Who's the most active?

As men age they get more stagnant, but as women age they get more active. But overall, the older a person is and the lower their income, the less likely they are to exercise.

Participants were classified into one of four groups - very low exercise, low exercise, moderate exercise or high exercise.

Men aged between 18-20 years exercised more (36.4 per cent) than their female counterparts (16.7 per cent). But at the other end of the age spectrum, more women (33.3 per cent) aged 80 or older were more active than men (17.6 per cent).

And a larger proportion of New Zealanders who reported household incomes above $100,000 exercise regularly, compared with those with household incomes between $10,000 and $30,000 (19.7 per cent).

The report also found Asian people exercise less than Maori/Pacific people and European people.

The report also found that the more you exercised, the more you flourished.

Who notices the most?

The older you are, the more you take in your surroundings and women are more observant than men, but only just.

The report found the trend that as New Zealanders age they become more likely to take notice of their environments.

Only a quarter of New Zealanders from 18 to 30 frequently take notice of their surroundings.

Taking notice, being mindful and living in the present have all been associated with increased wellbeing, research has said.

People were asked: "On a typical day, how often do you take notice of and appreciate your surroundings?" with an answer scale ranging from never to always.

Maori take in their environments more (60.1 per cent) than Europeans (55.6 per cent) and Asians (53.1 per cent).

Also, 39.4 per cent of females said they took notice often, compared with 38.4 per cent of males.

The proportion of people who take notice often did not vary considerably across regions. However, fewer people in Auckland reported taking notice often (54.1 per cent) compared with Waikato (59.5 per cent) and Bay of Plenty (61.4 per cent).

The proportion of those who took notice often did not vary much by income.

- NZ Herald

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