So, we’ve reached July 2021 and its been quite the couple of years. I find my mind is turning to wellbeing more and more often and with July including the UN International Day of Friendship I thought it would be good topic to ponder.
What are the key elements of wellbeing – do a quick google and you get all sorts of models on the dimensions of wellbeing – they crunch down into roughly the following.
Purpose – Liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve goals. I often put this as – what gets you out of bed in the morning?
Physical – Having good health and energy to get things done. Each of us starts from a different place on this but we all know that regular exercise keeps our body and mind healthy. As someone who spent many years avoiding exercise – this last year has really brought home to me how crucial it is to my personal wellbeing. I need the focus of an instructor and the community within a group class to get the most out of it. 45 mins or an hour every few days where there is nothing to do but the exercises, to get out of breath, to get sweaty – all the things I avoided in the past, this release is so important. No phone, no email, no family or domestic responsibility -it is a very different kind of switching off. I have loved gyms reopening. Looking after your physical body is a huge part of overall wellbeing – take a quick audit, Janet Jacksonesque – what have you done for your body lately?
Social – Having strong relationships and love in your life – I’ll come back to this.
Community – Liking where you live, feeling safe and having pride in your community. I could do multiple blogs on this and if we think about this it is what underpins so many equality-related campaigns – the fact that so many feel unsafe where they live, that they struggle to feel pride because of all the conscious and unconscious types of bias, discrimination, prejudice and stereotyping that is laced through societies across the globe. It has become a much bigger conversation – what is the cumulative mental health impact of constantly living your life under threat – something for us all to consider in our encounters with others, but also something I can’t do justice to here but do check out 2 Distant Strangers on Netflix to fuel your thinking.
Financial – Managing your economic life to reduce stress and insecurity – is a no brainer in terms of wellbeing. It is the one I feel the least able to influence or offer advice on and it is critical that we all remember the different levels of financial security we have – how that firmly underpins our agency and choices and so ultimately our wellbeing.
So back to the ‘Social’ This last 16 months or so in the UK and globally has really tested us all in terms of changing the shape and freedom of our lives. Many of us have had to convert to working entirely from home –and how we have worked and what we’ve been doing has changed. This impacted many aspects of the wellbeing indicators for all of us. Our daily contact with colleagues was very different.
Another major part of managing Covid to keep us all collectively safe was changing how we experienced community and social connections. We were prevented from seeing each other in person, we were prevented from touching each other.
Many of us were lucky enough to have strong social bonds to build on, the families we lived with, the friendship circles that adapted to online contact and community initiatives that supported each other, local quizzes, street WhatsApp groups. On an individual and micro level, we each had to consider – within our capability – how to look after ourselves and how to connect with others.
As an extrovert, as a connector, friendship and social contact are a big part of my persona and certainly a big part of my wellbeing. Seeing new and different people, learning new things through people, through different environments and experiences, are all part of what help make me thrive. They also underpin and support me in being an EDI practitioner.
The International Day of Friendship was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 2011. Its impetus is on a much larger scale. It is focused on the idea that friendship between countries, cultures and individuals can inspire peace efforts and build bridges between communities.
The resolution emphasises involving young people as future leaders in community activities that include and promote international understanding and respect for diversity.
The UN encourages us to hold events and activities that contribute to the effort of the international community towards promoting dialogue among civilisations, solidarity, mutual understanding and reconciliation.
Working at a global university, with the lead for improving/creating equality, diversity and inclusion, and having previously worked in various areas of government developing social policy, this underlying philosophy has driven me and my work. It isn’t always the way we think about it – often tending to focus on issues and problems and trying to solve them in the moment as they exist. But looking left, left of the problem, back to before it started or back to where it started, that often brings us to individual relationships and communities.
So, I find myself wondering what the long-term effects of this year/18 months of disrupted social contact – of very young children not being able to meet others, school children being separated and isolated? What will it mean in the future for friendship? Peace and solidarity? I feel we all have the opportunity to consider that now and counteract it as best we can.
So go on, on 30 July do something social and maybe look forward for the next few months and consider how to help build that in your own life and others. Take up a hobby, reach out to a friend, your faith group, a local organisation – add a little strength to your relationships and build a little more love in too! It helps you; it helps others and it helps global peace and security.