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Would you like to be part of creating a happier and more caring society? If so please join our movement, add your pledge and take action - at home, at school, at work or in your community. Together we can make a difference

I will try to create more happiness and less unhappiness in the world around me

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Local community

Our happiness is intertwined with the wellbeing of our local community. Being connected in a community helps us feel like we belong and this has a big impact on our own happiness, that of our family, and the community as a whole.

There are things all of us can do to improve community wellbeing, from getting to know our neighbours to supporting local activities and finding ways to help improve community facilities.

Local social networks are important

Strong neighbourhood social networks can have a significant impact on our quality of life and well-being as they provide something which is vital for all of us - a sense of belonging.

There is significant scientific evidence showing the positive benefits that come when we connect with people locally. These can include reducing the risk of depression, lowering the risk of heart disease and increasing how long we live. [1][2]

Our well-being increases when we talk regularly with our neighbours. Neighbourhood networks help us avoid becoming isolated and provide a source of support - for example, looking after our house when we're away or helping with informal childcare. [3]

Our local communities also provide us with opportunities to do things for others - to give as well as receive support - which has also been shown scientifically to increase well-being. [4]

Trust and safety

Social interaction in our communities increases feelings of trust and belonging. [5] This is a powerful thing that can have a positive impact not only on those who are directly involved in the social network, but on our community as a whole.

When we know and trust our neighbours we feel safer. [6] We are less likely to fear crime in the local area and more likely to expect that people in the area would intervene in the event of anti-social behaviour. [7] When we feel safe we are more likely to make use of public spaces in our local area and to leave our homes after dark.

Neighbourhoods with high levels of social interaction generally have less crime and more safe places for children to play. This also creates a positive cycle: if neighbours get outside into local parks and playgrounds, there are also more opportunities for neighbours to get to know each other, which fiurther increases trust and belonging and reduces fear of crime - and so on. [8]

Building our community connections

Building connections within our communities often means we form relationships not only with people who are like us but also others who may not be. This helps make our communities more united and contributes to what Professor Robert Putnam calls 'social capital' - otherwise known as community spirit or neighbourliness.

Professor Putnam describes two types of connections that are important in building social capital: bonding and bridging. [9] Bonding is the networks and ties that exist between people with similar social characteristics or identities (e.g. income level or educational background). Bonding connections tend to come most easily to us.

Bridging connections are those that bring together people with different backgrounds, often through a shared interest. For example: being members of a neighbourhood group, having children at a local school, working together to improve a community space, belonging to a local sports team. Bridging connections are critical to community well-being - they make us fell more united and trusting and bring positive benefits both for individuals and the wider community. [9][10]

Neighbourhood empowerment

There is a strong link between our community well-being and the extent to which we feel empowered to influence our local environment.

Being empowered means we feel able to do things to improve the local area, intervene to help resolve local problems or have our say on local issues and decisions. Strong local social networks help to enable this type of empowerment - and working together towards common goals in turn increases our local connections.

Local leaders are increasingly thinking about what they can do to increase community wellbeing. As community members we can help this process by encouraging our local MP or council to put a greater focus activities to boost community well-being.

References

[1] Social capital: A review of the literature, Office for National Statistics (ONS) (2001)

[2] Maisel, N.C. & Gable, S.L. (2009) For richer…in good times…and in health: positive processes in relationships. In S.J. Lopez & C.R. Snyder (Eds.) Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology. NY: Oxford University Press.

[3] Bacon, N., Brophy, M., Mguni, N., Mulgan, G. & Shandro A. (2010) The state of happiness: Can public policy shape people's wellbeing and resilience?. London: Young Foundation.

[4] Huppert, F.A. (2008). Psychological wellbeing: Evidence regarding its causes and consequences. State of the Science Review: SR-X2, UK Government Foresight Project, Mental Capital and Wellbeing

[5] Buonfino, A.; & Thomson, L. (2007). Belonging in Contemporary Britain. The Commission on Integration and Cohesion, Department of Communities and Local Government, Government of Great Britain

[6] Kitchen, S., Michaelson, J., Wood, N., and John, P. (2006a) 2005 Citizenship Survey Cross cutting themes report. London: Department for Communities and Local Government.

[7] Bacon,N., Brophy, M., Mguni, N., Mulgan, G. & Shandro A. (2010) The state of happiness: Can public policy shape people's wellbeing and resilience?. London: Young Foundation.

[8] Putnam, R (2000) Bowling alone: The collapse and decline of American community (Simon & Schuster : New York)

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Happiness is contagious

Our happiness influences the people we know and the people they know.

Research shows that the happiness of a close contact increases the chance of being happy by 15%. The happiness of a 2nd-degree contact (e.g. friend's spouse) by 10% and the happiness of a 3rd-degree contact (e.g. friend of a friend of a friend) by 6%.