“We can't separate family from the individual. The individual is controlled and guided by the community. That's how we grow up.”—Elleni Bereded-Samuel, Executive Manager of Diversity and Capability Development.
- Australian Unity Wellbeing Index research has found that people who have higher quality social connections tend to have a greater wellbeing.
- The connections we make with people are so important to our wellbeing that relationships form part of the “golden triangle of happiness”, along with standard of living and achieving in life.
- Volunteering is one way to build social connections within your community and bolster your wellbeing.
Think back to those times in your life when you’ve felt a deep sense of connection and satisfaction with your life.
Chances are you were surrounded by people—friends and family around the dinner table, or complete strangers at a football match or concert—and it made you feel part of something bigger than yourself.
It’s something that’s a critical factor in our wellbeing, which stretches beyond our personal attributes, attitudes and experiences to encompass our social connections and support.
It’s the “we” in wellbeing—and its importance is backed up by 20 years of research by the Australian Unity Wellbeing Index.
For Elleni Bereded-Samuel, Executive Manager of Diversity and Capability Development at Australian Unity, a sense of community was something she especially missed when she arrived in Australia from her Ethiopian homeland in 1995.
Despite being involved in study and having a growing family, Elleni still felt lonely.
Elleni decided the best way forward was to build a community around her—it takes a village to raise a child after all.
“We joined the Baptist Church and felt part of that community. They were lovely people and we still are in touch with them after 25 years.”
Social connections equal stronger wellbeing
Associate Professor Delyse Hutchinson, the lead researcher of the Australian Unity Wellbeing Index, says many years of research has shown that positive connections with other people is a key indicator of greater life satisfaction.
“Whether it’s looking after the grandchildren, or raising children, or the work you do or contributing to the community, people who have higher quality social connections tend to be happier,” says Delyse.
The importance of connections is something Elleni is acutely aware of, having learned first-hand the challenges many professional, educated people face when trying to find a job once they migrate to Australia.
As a result, Elleni has made it her quest to build community in her work with Australians including people from migrant and refugee backgrounds—and in 2019, she was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in recognition of her outstanding service to the community.
Driving her, she says, is a deep sense of purpose. “You have to feel you are contributing. You are energised by it, you're passionate about the work you do. That way, you fulfil your wellbeing.”
Creating a sense of connection
“Wellbeing only comes about when people feel that they have a place in society. When people are able to participate, work, live a lifestyle within their culture, their sense of wellbeing accelerates,” says June Riemer, a Dunghutti woman and Deputy Executive Officer at First Peoples Disability Network.
Delyse says there are many ways that people can build this connection with their community: “The obvious one is volunteering. It might be taking part in an initiative like Clean Up Australia Day, or helping with services that help build connection with elderly people. Community sport can also really help to connect people.”
The point, Delyse says, is to make the effort to step out of your comfort zone: ”Just trying to be part of the community is the critical thing rather than being isolated in your home and not getting out and about.”
June adds: “The freedom to access society and get out and about and pursue goals and aspirations that you may have in your life—whatever they may look like—is a gauge of wellbeing.”
In addition to our connections in the broader community, supportive, caring and meaningful relationships with our partners and family play a critical role in bolstering our wellbeing.
Having these close relationships help us to survive and thrive, particularly during challenging periods of life, such as losing our job or living through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Even the place we call home is a factor that shapes our sense of connection and wellbeing.
Delyse says the research shows that “those living in more regional and rural areas of Australia tend to have higher wellbeing than those living in metropolitan areas and achieve higher scores on community connectedness.”
The importance of “we”
Elleni believes the relationship between individual wellbeing, family and community is particularly pronounced in her culture: “We can't separate family from the individual. The individual is controlled and guided by the community. That's how we grow up.”
It’s something that 20 years of research by the Australian Unity Wellbeing Index has confirmed—that our relationships and connections matter to our individual wellbeing.
And it’s something that makes sense. After all, whether it’s in relation to our family, a group of friends or our wider community group, saying “we” just feels good.