Positive relationship cause the biggest boost in wellbeing

Our Eudaimonia research shows the importance of friends and family. But how can we learn from this?
20 December 2016

They say going to the gym will change your life, but for 79-year-old Ruth Booth, that’s not an exaggeration. Like many who have experienced the loss of a long-term partner, when Ruth’s husband died her world fell apart. But it was her regular attendance at YMCA Club’s older adult group that gave her a lifeline. 

“I used to come here to help as my husband's minder and when he died I didn’t think I could come anymore,” she says, sitting in the YMCA Club cafe. “My daughter kept saying ‘mum, get back to that gym’ because I was getting into myself, you know? And since I came back, I’ve been loving it. My daughter’s really pleased I’m coming here.”

The YMCA Club’s older adults group is open to anyone over the age of 60 and many have been referred by their doctor following cardiac surgery. “We’re like a family,” says Ruth. “Everyone knows each other’s problems, you know?” she adds: “We come here because everyone gets on so well. If a new person joins we’ll all welcome them. But our little clique you see now" – she says, pointing to the group sitting in the sofas around her – "we even go on holiday together.”

So finding time to socialise could be one the wisest decisions you make all year.

While no one disagrees that having close friends is a good thing, it’s only relatively recently that its fundamental importance to our health and wellbeing has begun to be understood by doctors, scientists and psychologists. 

It’s something that bears out in our own 2016 Eudaimonia research. The people we questioned who are always around friends or family with whom they have a positive relationship had an average wellbeing score of 7.16/10. That was the highest uplift in wellbeing scores. Whereas the lowest scores were recorded by those who are rarely with their friends or family (4.39/10), and those who may be regularly with friends or family but the relationships are poor (4.14/10). 

Apart from the psychological considerations, scientists say loneliness ultimately affect the immune system and has been linked to a 30% increase in the risk of having a stroke or coronary artery disease. So finding time to socialise could be one the wisest decisions you make all year.

However, it’s not always that easy. Big cities may be full of people, but often the population is transitory. People move away and it’s hard to make new friends. Loneliness – especially among the elderly – is even being described by some as an epidemic. According to the NHS it's estimated 51% of all people over the age of 75 in England live alone, and five million older people say the television is their main form of company. What can be done?

 

“A big part of feeling a happy person is being able to contribute to the society you are in.”
Ivo Gormley, founder of GoodGym, speaking at Central YMCA’s Eudaimonia! event in October 2016

When we questioned respondents of our Eudaimonia research about this they thought having more free time, having more money to pay for activities, travelling or starting a new hobby were just some of the factors that could help increase the number of good-quality relationships in their lives. This got us thinking. How could we help with this? Could community spaces, like YMCA Club in London, be used to facilitate more interaction, for example? How can we help those who find social interaction difficult, or are lacking the free time to make more meaningful connections with the people around them? 

These are all questions that Central YMCA is using to fuel our Eudaimonia campaign. It’s our movement to learn about – and overcome – the barriers to the UK’s wellbeing. We don’t know the answers yet, but as we continue our investigation throughout 2016 we hope pioneering new ideas will emerge. But we need your help.

Ivo Gormley, founder of GoodGym, said at our Eudaimonia! event: “A big part of feeling a happy person is being able to contribute to the society you are in.” How do you think we can encourage more people to contribute to society? And what can Central YMCA do to make that a reality?

Get involved and join the movement.

Read more about Eudaimonia, our wider movement to learn about – and overcome – the barriers to the UK’s wellbeing.

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