Compass for Life survey

As part of the Australian Psychological Society Compass for Life survey, 1,000 Australian adults responded to a series of wellbeing, behavioural and social media questions. The survey utilised the evidence-based wellbeing measure, the PERMA – profiler, which measures flourishing across five key domains (Positive emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment) which have been shown to support psychological wellbeing.

Overall, the survey respondents reported a positive sense of wellbeing, with most people having above- average scores for wellbeing. This included a quarter who reported very high levels of wellbeing.

Australians appear to have lives rich in relationships and meaning, rating highest on these two measures. In particular, strong relationships and community connectedness appear to be related to wellbeing for Australians.

Interestingly, adults reporting a high usage of social media, a platform designed to bring people closer together, also reported significantly higher levels of Loneliness and Negative emotions.

The future looks bright: For Australian adults, wellbeing was closely linked to life satisfaction and future outlook. People with the highest wellbeing score were also the most optimistic about the future and satisfied with their lives. Overall, about one in four of Australians adults are highly satisfied with their lives (24%) and future outlook (23%), while one in five Australian adults are unsatisfied with their lives (21%) and future outlook (22%).

A good life: When asked to spontaneously name the three things that make for a good life, Australians answered: good health/wellbeing, family/relationships and wealth/money.

Health and particularly relationships were shown to have a strong relationship with wellbeing. Although over half the Australians surveyed said that acquiring valuable things was a sign of success or made them happy, the results showed that household income was unrelated to wellbeing.

Wellbeing: A clear pattern of attitudes, activities and behaviours emerged from the data, suggesting a template for wellbeing.

  • Connectedness with close ones (family, friends, work colleagues) and the broader community are related to higher wellbeing.
  • Lifestyle choices such as being active, getting a good night’s sleep, engaging in relaxing and/or mindfulness activities were also associated with higher wellbeing scores.
  • Attitude to life was also important. People who are able to live in the moment and be present, as well as people who were open to new experiences, reported higher wellbeing scores.
  • The APS Compass for Life survey also provides evidence that having a hobby and having a keen interest in learning about the broader world related to a positive sense of wellbeing.

Age/life stage: People aged 65+ scored significantly higher on overall wellbeing and lower on Negative emotions and Loneliness compared to the rest of the sample. People aged 25-34 scored significantly higher scores on Loneliness than adults 35 years and over.

Key findings on Australian adults:

Money

  • 39% of Australians surveyed rated money/wealth as important to a good life but overall wellbeing levels across income groups were similar.
  • One in ten Australians surveyed said acquiring valuable things such as expensive clothes, cars, or homes was a sign of success.

Taking notice and mindfulness practice

  • Over half of Australians surveyed (52%) reported that often or every day they ‘live in the moment’ and this group scored significantly higher on most domains of wellbeing compared to the remainder of the sample.
  • Australians who often or always engage in relaxation or mindfulness activities such as yoga, listening to music or meditation (26%) reported higher wellbeing scores.
  • Mindfulness activities were also associated with wellbeing – 39% of Australians rarely participate in relaxation and mindfulness activities and they scored lower on most domains of wellbeing.

Close connections

  • Three in four (75%) Australians surveyed have close relationships, connecting with their family, partner and/or children every day.
  • People who rarely or never connect with close ones reported lower scores on all domains of wellbeing. They also scored lower on Loneliness and higher on Negative emotions.
  • Three in ten Australians surveyed connect with colleagues or workmates regularly. Again, people who scored low on connection at work reported lower wellbeing across the board.
  • 63% of women were frequent users of social media in contrast to 47% of men. People constantly engaging with social media had significantly higher levels of Negative emotions and Loneliness than other Australians.

Community connectedness

  • Those involved in sporting clubs and gyms generally reported higher scores on all wellbeing measures.
  • Nearly a third of Australians surveyed (32%) feel a strong sense of belonging to their community. People who do not feel strongly connected (30%) scored lower across all domains of wellbeing.
  • Australians who regularly actively contribute to their community (28%) reported significantly higher scores across all domains of wellbeing. People who rarely contribute had higher levels of Loneliness and Negative emotions.

Self-care activities

  • Poor sleepers (19%) scored significantly lower on all domains of wellbeing.
  • Being active each day is related to multiple measures of wellbeing.
  • One in three Australians is active once a week or less and low levels of activity are associated with lower levels of wellbeing and health.

Attitude to life

  • Two in five Australians (40%) reported they often or always seek new experiences that broaden their world view. People with a broad world view and interest in travel and new adventures have higher wellbeing scores across all domains.

Wellbeing of Australians adolescents

Just over five hundred (518) Australian adolescents (aged 13-17) took part in the APS Compass for Life survey which included the EPOCH wellbeing measure as well as a range of behavioural and social media questions. The EPOCH measures wellbeing in adolescents across five key domains – Engagement, Perseverance, Optimism, Connectedness and Happiness.

Overall, Australian adolescents report a positive sense of wellbeing and a strong sense of Connectedness.

In addition, doing activities regularly such as using their strengths, broadening their world view, having hobbies and reading were associated with significantly higher scores across all the measures of wellbeing.

However, there are some concerning findings: about one in six Australian adolescents are unsatisfied with their lives (15%) and future outlook (16%). Almost one in three Australian adolescents (30%) report that acquiring valuable things such as expensive clothes, accessories and other things makes them happy.

Also concerning was that only 45% of adolescents feel a strong sense of belonging to their community (e.g. school). The least connected scored lower across all domains of wellbeing.

The findings suggest that there are a range of regular activities that Australian adolescents could do to improve their wellbeing including being active, taking time to reflect and relax, being involved with community, catching up with friends and family, eating well, reading, travelling and having new experiences as well as finding a hobby.

Other key findings:

Wellbeing

  • Girls and boys reported similar levels of wellbeing.

Mindfulness

  • 47% of Australian adolescents regularly ‘live in the moment’ (i.e. taking notice and being aware of their own thoughts/feelings and the world around them).
  • Adolescents who rarely ‘live in the moment’ (18%) scored significantly lower across all domains of wellbeing as measured by the EPOCH measure.
  • 36% of Australian adolescents regularly engage in relaxation or mindfulness activities (e.g. yoga, listening to music, meditation).
  • 27% rarely or never take time to relax or engage in mindfulness activities and they scored significantly lower on overall wellbeing.

Close connections

  • The majority of Australian adolescents (74%) often or always connected with their families, close friends and/or boy/girlfriend everyday they had higher wellbeing scores.
  • People who rarely connected with friends and family scored significantly lower across all domains on the EPOCH measure of wellbeing.
  • More than three in five adolescents (63%) regularly connected with friends, while people who rarely connected reported significantly lower levels of wellbeing across the board.

Community connectedness

  • 36% of adolescents participate as a member of a sports club or fitness. Adolescents who rarely or never participated scored significantly lower on several measures of wellbeing.
  • 31% of adolescents said they don’t feel safe in their neighbourhood.
  • One in five Australian adolescents (19%) regularly contribute to their community. Adolescents are involved with their community score significantly higher across all domains of wellbeing.

Self-care

  • Only three in five (62%) Australian adolescents report regularly getting a good night’s sleep. Almost one in ten (9%) get a good night’s sleep once a week or less.
  • Poor sleepers scored significantly lower across most domains on the EPOCH measure.
  • Regularly being active was associated with higher scores on many of the measures of wellbeing for adolescents – 43% of adolescents reported being active every day or more often.
  • Lower wellbeing was associated with lower levels of activity – 23% of adolescents were active once a week or less.
  • A significant proportion of Australian adolescents were not eating enough fruit and vegetables – 19% ate sufficient fruit and vegetables only once a week or less.
  • One in five (19%) Australian adolescents consumed soft drinks almost every day or more.
  • More than two in three adolescents (69%) frequently (at least once a week) consumed fast food.

Ways to thrive

Wellbeing is our ultimate goal – we all want to improve our health, achieve our goals, and live meaningful and satisfying lives.  During Psychology Week, the Australian Psychological Society is running the Compass for Life campaign to impart psychology knowledge and skills to Australians by sharing Ways to Thrive, distilled from psychology research.

Foundations for wellbeing: A new scientific approach

Psychologists have been searching for the keys to wellbeing, looking to understand what factors help people to thrive.

One prominent theory of wellbeing is embodied in the discipline of positive psychology developed by Dr Martin Seligman, where research has shown there are five pillars underpinning our psychological wellbeing and happiness – positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment, known as PERMA.

We can improve our health, happiness and satisfaction with life by focusing on some of these aspects of our lives.  

The 5 pillars for wellbeing: PERMA

Positive emotion:  The ability to embrace life with optimism, which doesn’t mean no ups and downs but an overall ability to bounce back and view life positively, enjoying a full range of positive emotions including joy, enjoyment and gratitude.

Engagement: Being involved in activities, often the ones that we love doing or those that utilise our strengths, that transport us and absorb us makes for a deeper more interesting life.

Relationships: Our connections to other people - partner, friends, family, boss, colleagues, children and/or community - help buoy us and give us a sense of being loved and secure. 

Meaning:  Feeling that what we do or what we are working towards matters, not just to us but to others and in the wider scheme of things, gives meaning to our lives.

Accomplishment – Being able to set and achieve goals and enjoy some mastery and control over our lives has shown to help us derive a sense of purpose from life.

Watch Dr Seligman explain the PERMA

Measuring wellbeing and happiness

In 2016, the Australian Psychological Society will survey Australian adults and young people to measure their wellbeing and life satisfaction across the five key domains.  The results will be released during Psychology Week, and during the week Australians will be invited to take an online survey to find their own measure of happiness and wellbeing.

Ways to thrive

Psychologists know many ways to help people thrive and during Psychology Week, the APS and APS Psychologists in partnership with experts from the Centre of Positive Psychology, the University of Melbourne, will be sharing this expertise with Australians to help them build their strengths, improve their wellbeing and greater life satisfaction.