A new index of "wellbeing" has found that New Zealanders get more "awesome" as they get older.

The index, produced by AUT Professor Grant Schofield and sponsored by insurance firm Sovereign, also shows that wellbeing increases with income, employment, exercise and good diet.

More surprisingly, older people are almost twice as likely as young people to have the highest level of wellbeing ("awesome") - 35 per cent of those aged 55-plus compared with only 19 per cent aged 18-34 and 23 per cent of the middle-aged.

Dr Schofield believes that older people on average feel more secure financially, socially and in who they are.

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The survey found that wellbeing is linked, predictably, to higher income, but is even more strongly linked to coping on whatever income is earned.

To be counted as "awesome", people had to choose one of the top three levels on a 10-level scale of happiness between "extremely happy" and "extremely unhappy".

They also had to score highly on at least three out of four measures of "positive functioning" and at least four out of five "positive characteristics".

The survey found no significant differences based on gender, ethnicity or the size of towns and cities. Exercise and diet had modestly positive effects. But social connections had much more powerful effects.

The 4 per cent of people who strongly agreed that they "feel close to people in their local area" were seven times more likely to be "awesome" (62 per cent) than the 8 per cent of people who strongly disagreed (9 per cent "awesome").

On average, the 25.3 per cent of New Zealanders classed as "awesome" fell well below the average of 36.6 per cent in 29 European countries where the same questions were asked in 2012.

• For more information go to mywellbeing.co.nz

Wellbeing no surprise for '60-plus'

Auckland's Grey Power president is not surprised that when it comes to wellbeing, older Kiwis are better off.

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Anne-Marie Coury won't give away her exact age but admits to having "moved into the 60-plus bracket". But age has not stopped her cycling, lobbying, lecturing and even performing in a kapa haka group.

"I think there is an aspect of the maturing process where you have actually more knowledge collectively as the years go by," she said.

"You have greater awareness of how you can effect change, and how being positive makes a difference, and you are more aware of perhaps when to take a stand and you don't mind speaking out about something."

Originally a teacher, Ms Coury is now practically a fulltime consultant and lobbyist for "age-friendly cities". In 2012 she founded 50-Plus Cycling, now a group of 25 to 30 cyclists who go riding together once or twice a month.

Anne-Marie Coury can be contacted at: seniorswellbeing@gmail.com