Much of the Relationships Foundation’s current interest in family policy is a development of an early study − Thriving lives: which way for wellbeing? − which demonstrated that the individual pursuit of happiness is no guarantee to increasing our long-term well-being. Rather, our personal well-being is inextricably bound-up with other people and their responses to us. Once people realise that happiness is not possible without other people and that everyone is responsible to other people for it, this has major implications on the way we live. Suddenly, we move from a what’s-in-it-for-me approach to what can I do for you? Our happiness is then a result of giving to others. How we handle ourselves becomes very significant as this affects how other people treat us.
Most of our sense of wellbeing comes from our connections with other people – like family, friends, local community, work colleagues, even the nation as a whole. But, ironically, to benefit from these relationships we need to invest in them without thinking of our own gain. We need to change the way we live if we wish to experience long-term happiness. Just as we all realise the need to do our bit for the environment – the same is true for society – we need to start putting others first if all of us, and our children, in years from now, are to have wellbeing. Making choices for wellbeing is a personal responsibility but government has a part to play in creating an environment that helps our relationships to flourish. One thing that Government can do is encourage our motivation to invest in relationships. Another is to ensure that we’ve all got the opportunity – to develop relationships, which takes the debate into areas such as marriage, working patterns and pay differentials, building social skills through education, creating relationships between criminals and society and even housing planning. The third is to provide the support for relationships, whether supporting existing relationships or helping to build relationships for those who are excluded or alone. The report didn’t dictate what people should do to achieve wellbeing, but pointed out that people can’t experience well-being without their social relationships flourishing. Instead, we need to focus on what all of us – individuals, businesses, media, government – can do to encourage relationships and build a healthy society that will result in greater well-being for everyone.
We recognise that welcome progress has been made by the Office of National Statistics with measuring wellbeing on a national scale.