Take our free Real Wellbeing test and see how you compare to fellow Aussies

Take the test

Tags: What is Real Wellbeing? AUWI20 Wellbeing Index

“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.

Key points

  • 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.”

Two women and a man sitting around a table and laughing

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.

It’s why, along with achieving in life and standard of living, relationships form part of a winning trifecta known as the “golden triangle of happiness”. 

“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.”

Older man laughing with younger man

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. 

What is Real Wellbeing?

Wellbeing and why it matters

For 20 years, the Australian Unity Wellbeing Index, developed with Deakin University, has measured and explored our wellbeing as individuals, a community and a nation.

Read more
What is Real Wellbeing?

Tracking Australians’ wellbeing

The Australian Unity Wellbeing Index is one of the most enduring and credible studies of wellbeing in Australia.

Read more
What is Real Wellbeing?

20 years on: the events that shaped our lives

Looking back over two decades of events that affected our collective wellbeing, for better and for worse.

Read more
What is Real Wellbeing?

Why family matters

Maintaining intimate relationships can have a profound effect on your quality of life.

Read more
What is Real Wellbeing?

The “we” in wellbeing

Humans are social beings, with our research showing us that wellbeing thrives when our social connections are positive and rich.

Read more
What is Real Wellbeing?

Don’t worry, age happy

Old age can get a bad rap. But, as research shows, our later years could also be our happiest.

Read more
What is Real Wellbeing?

The power of politics: how the government affects our wellbeing

From pandemics to party politics, our sense of wellbeing is linked to the way our government responds to the issues of the day.

Read more
What is Real Wellbeing?

Scoring goals: why achieving matters

A sense of purpose in life is the drive that gets us out of bed each day, and it plays a core role in our overall wellbeing.

Read more