Much media mirth – and indeed derision – accompanied the announcement at the end of November that measures of happiness, or to quote accurately ‘national wellbeing’ were being developed to allow a comprehensive assessment of what makes ‘lives worthwhile’ and what would improve or detract from our national wellbeing.
But what is meant by wellbeing? The UK Inquiry into Mental Health and Wellbeing in Later Life published in June 2006 and conducted jointly by Age Concern and the Mental Health Foundation, highlighted five key areas which impact upon this: discrimination, participation in meaningful activities, strong social relationships, physical health and poverty. The report also recognised that the issues were complex and overlapping and that action was required to alleviate these pressures across a range of national and local bodies, public, private and third sector organisations.
The current consultation asks whether particular indicators ‘matter’ to people, including:
- income and wealth,
- job satisfaction and economic security,
- ability to have a say on local and national issues,
- having good connections with friends and relatives,
- present and future conditions of the environment,
- education and training,
- personal and cultural activities, including caring and volunteering,
and whether these should be reflected in measures of national wellbeing.
Given the similarities between the findings of the 2006 inquiry and the current consultation it is safe to say that we probably have a pretty clear idea of the factors which do impact on individuals’ feeling of wellbeing or even happiness. The challenge is how to positively impact upon these, and also to identify who should have responsibility for doing so. The current political and fiscal environment challenges our thinking on where this should lie – with Government, local authorities, the private sector or with individuals themselves.
As we emerge from the festive season perhaps we should reflect on whether for a few days at least, as good neighbours, friends and family we managed to bring good cheer to those older people for whom this time of year has been particularly challenging. Happy New Year!