News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Happiness and well-being

Since 2005, residents of 153 nations have been asked each year by the Gallup World Poll to imagine their current position on a ladder with steps numbered from zero to 10, where the top represents the best possible life and the bottom the worst possible life for themselves.

These “life evaluations” provide researchers with a measure of a nation’s well-being.

The World Happiness Report averaged life evaluations from 2017 to 2019.

When nations were ranked according to their average life evaluation scores, the United States placed 18th; 153 countries reported less well-being than the U.S.

The World Happiness Report identified six factors that helped to explain 75 percent of the differences in well-being scores across nations:

Four social-environmental factors — having someone to count on, institutional trust, a sense of freedom to make key life decisions, and generosity — “together account for as much as income and healthy life expectancy in explaining the gap between the 10 happiest and the 10 least-happy countries in the world.”

Around the world

When other forms of social support are unavailable, well-being can still be achieved through social connections — having at least one friend or relative available for intimate discussions, and participating in social meetings at least once a week.

Positive emotions contribute to well-being. When people feel the freedom to make key life decisions and are generous to others they are more likely to experience laughter, happiness, and joy.

Since 2010, there has been a surge in worry and sadness around the world. Strong social support, freedom to make decisions, and faith in government can reduce negative emotions, including worry, sadness, and anger.

Positive emotions have a greater influence on ratings of well-being than the absence of negative emotions.

One of the most exciting discoveries was that social supports in the form of interpersonal trust (having someone to count on) and institutional trust (faith in government) can provide protection against declines in well-being caused by:

• Discrimination

• Ill health

• Unemployment

• Low income

• Loss of family support (through separation, divorce, or spousal death)

• Lack of perceived night-time safety.

Social supports can act “…as protective buffers against adversity and as substitutes for income as means of achieving better lives.”

Another striking finding was that social supports reduce inequality of well-being.

Individuals at the greatest risk of experiencing adversity, but fortunate enough to live in communities with strong social supports, experience the most significant improvement in well-being scores.

Strong social supports contribute to a fairer distribution of well-being across communities.

How this impacts Sisters Country

We have seen a large influx of families to our area, some fleeing large cities. Families left behind friends and relatives who helped them when they were in trouble. Lacking “someone to count on,” newcomers may be forced into a greater reliance upon governmental programs and local nonprofits.

We must be ready to respond to the growing need, giving Sisters Country the opportunity to strengthen institutional trust as a means to promote well-being.

Newcomers often lack social connections that can contribute to well-being. It takes time to get to know neighbors and establish friendships. Pandemic restrictions on social gatherings create additional barriers to meeting others in the community.

We can all extend the hand of friendship by introducing new residents to their neighbors, inviting them to attend (Zoom) meetings, and informing them of volunteer opportunities where they can connect with others in the community.

We can also provide social supports to those neighbors most at risk of adversity. Not only will this help to insulate them against a decline in their well-being, but it will also redistribute well-being more fairly across our community.

The State of Oregon has been prioritizing federal and state dollars to support Oregonians most impacted economically by the pandemic. Governor Kate Brown has placed additional restrictions on our lives to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Some chafe under the additional restrictions on their freedom imposed by the governor. After all, the freedom to live our lives as we see fit, along with generosity, results in such positive emotions as laughter, happiness, and joy. Others view it as a fair price for staying healthy and keeping others safe.

It’s important that we acknowledge both points of view.


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