Subjective Wellbeing

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Subjective wellbeing refers to people’s emotional health, ability to live full and creative lives, and capacity to deal with life’s challenges [1]. It is a positive concept, meaning that subjective wellbeing can also be defined as flourishing, where people are engaged with life, and have a sense of meaning and purpose [2]. Having high levels of subjective wellbeing can positively affect most dimensions of people’s lives: family and friendships, employment, education, physical health, and life expectancy [3]. Subjective wellbeing is influenced by a wide range of circumstances, events, and policies.

Subjective wellbeing includes strengths-based concepts such as resourcefulness and resilience. Major local events such as the Canterbury earthquakes and the Christchurch mosque attacks of March 2019 can, and often do, have a negative impact on wellbeing [4,5]. Similarly, the impact of such events may be apparent in community-level data, as are presented here. However, over time, those experiencing mild psychological reactions should be able re-establish good levels of wellbeing if they receive basic support [6-8]. The recovery process can take 5 to 10 years or longer [9].

Key trends within subjective wellbeing

Currently, more than eight out of ten respondents (81.6%) to the Canterbury Wellbeing Survey rate their overall quality of life as good or extremely good. The overall upward trend is statistically significant (starting from 73.5% in 2012), although a general pattern of decline in quality of life is apparent since 2019. After a statistically significant increase in emotional wellbeing (as measured by mean score on the WHO-5 scale) between 2013 and 2018, (mean score of 15.4 points in 2018 compared to 13.8 points in 2013), the mean emotional wellbeing score has decreased slightly in 2019, 2020, and 2022 (14.9).

There has been a statistically significant downward trend in self-reported stress over the last several years. However, the 2022 result shows a statistically significant increase in the proportion of respondents experiencing stress, compared with the 2019 result (73.1% in 2022 up from 67.9% in 2019). The 2022 result indicates that the proportion of respondents experiencing stress is similar to that last seen in 2016. In the 2021 New Zealand General Social Survey, 87.0% of Canterbury respondents rated their sense of purpose highly (7 or more out of 10 on the ‘life worthwhile scale’); relatively unchanged from the previous result and similar to New Zealand overall. Finally, family wellbeing showed an increase between 2018 and 2021 for Canterbury respondents (87.4% rating their family wellbeing as 7 or more out of 10 in 2021, up from 82.4% in 2018) while the proportion remained stable at 82.6% for New Zealand overall over this period.

Key equity issues within subjective wellbeing

The proportion of those rating their quality of life as good or extremely good has generally been higher for European respondents, compared with Māori and Pacific/Asian/Indian respondents. At least in part, this is likely to be driven by household income levels, as the results show income to be strongly positively related to overall quality of life.

The levels of emotional wellbeing indicated by Māori respondents have generally been lower than those for European and Pacific/Asian/Indian respondents, but not significantly different in more recent results. There is also a pattern of higher emotional wellbeing scores for male respondents compared with female respondents, and for those without a disability or long-term health condition.

What this means for wellbeing

The overall picture for subjective wellbeing in greater Christchurch is mixed, with noteworthy improvements in the quality of life, emotional wellbeing, and stress indicators through until 2019.

A number of indicators have declined in the November 2022 Canterbury Wellbeing Survey, which may reflect the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on subjective wellbeing, as well as the effects of the increasing cost of living, alongside other factors.


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