Wellbeing snapshot shows huge divide

Imagine you were asked to rate your current life between zero and 10 and your life in five years time? As you chose a number to describe your sense of wellbeing now and prospects for the future, would you be thinking of how you are feeling today (not enough sleep last night… stressful meeting at work today…) or rather the underlying factors (good health, housing, employment, stable government, personal freedom). How might your faith affect your view?

Social researchers at Gallup have collated a global snapshot of wellbeing using data collected in 155 countries or areas since 2005. Gallup classifies respondents as ‘thriving,’ ‘struggling,’ or ‘suffering,’ according to how they rate their lives based on the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale:

Please imagine a ladder with steps numbered from zero at the bottom to 10 at the top. The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time? (ladder-present) On which step do you think you will stand about five years from now? (ladder-future)

According to separate research, people tend to answer these questions from the perspective of life evaluation (judgements of life) rather than daily affect (feelings). It is called a self-anchoring scale because it allows people to interpret their wellbeing from their own perspective rather than external measures such as how much money they earn, levels of education or political conditions.

In other words, if the research is to be believed, people across the globe are saying, ‘this is how I feel about my life’ not on the basis of  ‘I have a headache today’ but on the basis of ‘I feel my life looks like this’. A poor person in Africa might actually feel very happy in the midst of their poverty but when stepping back and assessing their prospects, they realise they are up against it and so report low ladder scores. A rich person in Denmark might be feeling gloomy in the midst of their wealth but when stepping back to view their life, realise they have plenty to feel confident about.

So what were the results of Gallup’s global wellbeing research? It reveals a vast divide that underscores the diversity of economic development challenges around the world.

‘The percentage who are “thriving” ranges from a high of 82% in Denmark to a low of 1% in Togo,’ Gallup says. [Australia comes in at 62% thriving and New Zealand 63%.]

‘Adults within each of  four major regions are often worlds apart in how they evaluate their lives. Africa has the lowest wellbeing; no country in this region has a thriving percentage higher than 25%. In fact, of the 41 countries where the thriving percentage is 10% or lower, more than half are in Africa. Conversely, in the Americas, where “thriving” is highest, the only countries with less than a quarter thriving are Cuba (24%) and Haiti (4%). “Thriving” in the Americas is highest in Costa Rica (63%) and Canada (62%), followed closely by Panama (58%), Brazil (58%), and the United States (57%),’ according to the Gallup report.

Table courtesy of Gallup

‘There is a clear wellbeing divide between the wealthier countries of northern, western, and central Europe and some poorer countries within eastern and southern Europe. Self-reported wellbeing is lowest in Bulgaria (6%) and highest in Denmark (82%) and Finland (75%). In several of the largest European economies, like France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, wellbeing falls roughly in the middle. Similar disparities are evident in Asia. Thriving is 60% or higher in New Zealand (63%), Israel (62%), and Australia (62%) and 10% or lower in 11 nations. Cambodia rounds out the bottom with 3% “thriving”.’

The terms thriving, struggling and suffering are derived in this way:

Thriving — wellbeing that is strong, consistent, and progressing. These respondents have positive views of their present life situation (7+) and have positive views of the next five years (8+). They report significantly fewer health problems, fewer sick days, less worry, stress, sadness, anger, and more happiness, enjoyment, interest, and respect.

Struggling — wellbeing that is moderate or inconsistent. These respondents have moderate views of their present life situation OR moderate OR negative views of their future. They are either struggling in the present, or expect to struggle in the future. They report more daily stress and worry about money than the ‘thriving’ respondents, and more than double the amount of sick days. They are more likely to smoke, and are less likely to eat healthy.

Suffering — wellbeing that is at high risk. These respondents have poor ratings of their current life situation (4 and below) AND negative views of the next five years (4 and below). They are more likely to report lacking the basics of food and shelter, more likely to have physical pain, a lot of stress, worry, sadness, and anger. They have less access to health insurance and care, and more than double the disease burden, in comparison to ‘thriving’ respondents.

As I sit in my home and tap away on my laptop, I know that regardless of the ups and downs of life my potential for wellbeing is so much greater than many of my ‘neighbours’ in the world. On what basis could you or I ignore this?

The Bible clearly challenges us not just to preach a message of wellbeing but to share the wellbeing of our own lives with someone else. There is great spiritual wellbeing in the Christian faith and I’m sure our African and Asian brothers and sisters could teach us much about this for daily life. But we too have something to share which involves justice, fairness and equality. The two go hand in hand.

In my travels to developing countries I know the small amount of aid and advocacy we are able to bring is much appreciated and significant. So too the large amount of faith and courage which is returned by those I meet. 

Christians are uniquely placed to improve each others wellbeing and a global transfer is in order. Let us in wealthy countries learn from those who know what it is to be cheerful and faithful while knowing deep down that their earthly prospects are severely compromised. Let us who have plenty on this earth learn to bring what we have with humility and respect to lift the prospects of those God leads us to.

If we all did this, Gallup might need to do some new research… PH

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