The Australian Unity Wellbeing Index focuses on what we call the “seven domains of wellbeing” – factors that combine and work together over time to build an individual picture of life satisfaction. More than a fleeting moment of happiness, Real Wellbeing is a long-lasting, holistic view of our lives.
What’s the first thing that springs to mind when you think about your wellbeing? If you automatically think of sipping a green smoothie while sitting on a yoga mat, you’re not alone. From bloggers to fitness experts, a lot of people use the term “wellbeing” in relation to health and fitness, trends and regimes. And while these things can certainly help to support your wellbeing, we’re here to talk about how real wellbeing relies on more factors than just your health.
For more than 20 years, Australian Unity, in partnership with Deakin University, has been studying the wellbeing and life satisfaction of Australians through the Australian Unity Wellbeing Index. The study focuses on what we call the “seven domains of wellbeing” – factors that combine and work together over time to build an individual picture of life satisfaction. More than a fleeting moment of happiness, Real Wellbeing is a long-lasting, holistic view of our lives.
So what are the seven domains and why are they important to our overall wellbeing?
The seven domains of wellbeing
The Australian Unity Wellbeing Index’s seven domains of wellbeing relate to the spectrum of our lives, from our relationships and finances to our feelings about the future. The big, memorable moments of life – like a wedding, the birth of a child or retirement – and the countless in-between moments and small life changes – like helping your loved one prepare for a job interview or getting up half an hour earlier to go for a walk – all contribute to our life satisfaction and wellbeing.
According to the Australian Unity Wellbeing Index, we typically feel satisfied with our wellbeing, when we score highly on more than one of the following factors.
The strength and quality of our relationships with friends, family and colleagues influences how we rate our personal wellbeing. Relationships protect us from feeling isolated and create confidence that we do not have to face all of life’s ups and downs alone. On the flipside, when we don’t have close relationships, we can feel unloved and unable to tackle life’s obstacles.
Says new dad Kevin: “I've always been lucky enough to have a really core group of friends that I could reach out to, who kind of took me aside and just said, how's it going? There's always going to be times when things come up off the rails and I feel secure that I've got people I could turn to. That's the key sign for me that I know I'm in a rich relationship.”
These relationships breed intimacy, but they also deliver a sense of love, respect, security and comfort to our lives.
Our standard of living is tied to our sense of financial control and the access we have to opportunities, which have a significant impact on the overall satisfaction we feel with our lifestyle.
For Elizabeth, hitting rock bottom due to a gambling addiction made her realise how important her finances were to her wellbeing. “I saw the other side of things where you just did not have anything, you know, you couldn't even buy shoes, let alone go to a doctor,” she says. “If you've got no money you can't protect yourself.”
Being “on top” of our money situation enables us to feel financially secure, which gives us the confidence to make better choices and invest in the experiences that support our wellbeing.
The most obvious factor affecting our wellbeing is our physical and mental health. However, just because our physical health may decline as we age, it doesn’t mean our wellbeing does. In fact, the Australian Unity Wellbeing Index reported in 2019 that people aged 65-plus have the lowest scores for physical health yet report the highest overall sense of wellbeing.
How we fare mentally hasn’t always been front and centre in health discussions either, but experts now acknowledge that psychological health is equally as important as physical health. Keeping on top of both is important for our wellbeing, but the impact of health challenges can also be offset by other domains.
The Australian Unity Wellbeing Index tracks how we feel about our “future security” – that is, how we plan and prepare for the future, and how we feel about our future more generally.
The future is one of the most unpredictable elements of life, so it’s no wonder we can experience anxiety about it. While a secure, stable and rewarding future looks different to each of us – different people might look forward to more financial stability, solid relationships or new employment opportunities – taking concrete steps to build our resilience and confidence in our future will have a significant effect on our wellbeing.
The degree to which we feel involved, connected and supported in our community – be it an online group, a local hobby club, a work network or otherwise – is an important aspect of our wellbeing.
Says Marcia, who took up dancing after a series of illnesses in her family: “I found a hobby that I fell in love with, where I was able to connect with other people of different walks of life. I've developed really close, good friendships with some people, both younger and older. And it's just given me a whole new lease on life.”
Without these roots in a social setting, we can become isolated, lonely and feel disconnected from society – which is why these strong connections play an important role in supporting our overall wellbeing.
Keeping ourselves safe is the most important element of human survival, but it’s also key to helping us thrive. From physical safety to psychological and financial safety, feeling safe and secure in our lives allows us to focus on the other factors that support our wellbeing.
Finding an environment where we feel secure, and developing tools and the resilience to be strong in the face of change are two key ways that we can improve our sense of safety – and, in turn, our wellbeing.
Along with financial control and relationships, achieving in life – that is, having a sense of purpose – forms the Australian Unity Wellbeing Index’s “golden triangle of wellbeing”. People who feel they live meaningful lives have stronger personal relationships, fewer physical health problems, improved mental health and overall healthier lifestyles.
People who make and set goals, reflect and find meaning in their lives, and hold strong beliefs often have a strong sense of purpose – and Anna, 73, who returned to university as a mature-age student, is a wonderful example of this.
“I am actually at a stage in my life where I can say that I like my life. And it's got nothing to do with where I live. It's nothing to do with money. Someone said to me ‘Are you retired?’ I said no, I'm just not working. I said, I'm going back to uni full-time. I'm doing what I want to do, how I want to do it, when I want to do it. I've got a purpose in life – I'm just going to go for it.”
The role of homeostasis in our wellbeing
The seven domains of wellbeing define the factors that influence or enhance our wellbeing, but the ongoing status of our wellbeing relies on what is referred to as “homeostasis”.
Homeostasis is best explained as the state of stability, or equilibrium, within an organism – in this case, humans. Just as we manage to hold our body temperature steady when it is hot or cold outside, homeostasis means we also have a “base level” of wellbeing to which we will return.
While our wellbeing may dip at times – for example, our physical health may encounter a setback – we can bring it into balance through long-term strategies that allow our other domains to thrive.
Kevin sums it up well. “Overall, I think my wellbeing is better because I've managed a better balance across all the different areas of wellbeing,” he says.
Regardless of where we are in life, real wellbeing requires us to pay attention to our life as a whole. When we understand what we want to achieve in life, learn from past experiences, and have the security, opportunity and connections to do what makes us happy, we are well on the path to wellbeing.
Disclaimer: Information provided in this article is of a general nature. Australian Unity accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of any of the opinions, advice, representations or information contained in this publication. Readers should rely on their own advice and enquiries in making decisions affecting their own health, wellbeing or interest.