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Tags: What is Real Wellbeing? AUWI20 Wellbeing Index

“During those down times, your really good relationships just shine out. They know you need the support and it comes without you even really asking for it.”—Kevin, Australian Unity member.

Key points

  • People depend on strong personal relationships to support and sustain us through life.
  • Research shows our satisfaction with our personal relationships has remained very stable over the past 20 years.
  • The data shows that higher levels of loneliness are consistently associated with lower personal wellbeing scores.

Relationships provide the emotional scaffolding to our lives, helping us to stave off loneliness and building our sense of personal achievement. 

Newly married couple smiling in the rain

The golden key to wellbeing

Our 20 years of researching Australians’ wellbeing has shown us that you can significantly boost your chances of personal fulfilment if you maintain three key elements in a positive ratio.

This “golden triangle of happiness” consists of your personal relationships, your finances and your sense of purpose—but the first of these is particularly crucial.

Evolutionary history has turned humans into highly social beings, and we depend on strong personal relationships—with our friends, colleagues, community and loved ones—to support and sustain us through life.

20 years of relationship satisfaction

Smartphones, online dating, social media—the past 20 years have brought a host of sweeping changes to the way we conduct our daily lives.

Intriguingly, however, our satisfaction with our personal relationships has remained very stable over this time, moving up and down by a mere four points.

Times may have changed, but our satisfaction with our relationships has stayed consistent, perhaps reflecting how integral they are to our identities and lives. 

Relationship ups and downs

It’s normal for our satisfaction with our personal relationships to ebb and flow over the course of our lifetime.

During the early stages of young adulthood, we typically experience our lowest level of satisfaction with our relationships.

In our late 20s, however, satisfaction rises, possibly due to people typically becoming involved in more serious, long-term relationships.

From our mid-30s to our late 40s and early 50s, there is a slight decline in our satisfaction as responsibilities ramp up and big life events such as divorce, death, serious illness and caring responsibilities take their toll.

But things steadily pick up from there, with our satisfaction levels increasing from our late 50s onwards and peaking during our retirement years. By this stage people have less pressure and—provided they’re in good health—can experience higher wellbeing.

AUWI20 graph relationships

A bulwark against life’s challenges

While platonic and romantic relationships are both important, walking down the aisle can be particularly beneficial when it comes to boosting wellbeing.

Married people record the highest levels of personal wellbeing, presumably thanks to the commitment, security and support that the relationship can bring.

That support can also act as a buffer against a midlife dip in wellbeing, with partnered Australians—whether married or de facto—less likely to see a decline than other groups.

Achieving a sense of achievement

While our sense of purpose—or, more specifically, the domain of “achieving in life”—forms part of the golden triangle of happiness, it focuses on activities that provide purpose in life.

However, we can also feel a separate sense of personal achievement from our accomplishments in life and, for two-thirds of Australians, this sense of personal achievement primarily comes from their family.

In fact, relationships consistently trump work or hobbies in terms of personal achievement. People who report that their greatest source of personal achievement comes from engaging with others—whether through family, their partner or volunteering—rack up higher levels of wellbeing than those who credit their hobby or work as their main source of achievement.

Lonely hearts

Social isolation is bad for the soul, but strong relationships can make a difference. Australian Unity Wellbeing Index research shows that higher levels of loneliness are consistently associated with lower personal wellbeing scores, while there is a strong link between social connectedness and greater wellbeing.

Close personal relationships play a key role here, with connectedness to partners, friends, the local community and work colleagues all associated with increased wellbeing and domain satisfaction.

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