It is hardly a surprise to be told, as we were this week by the Office for National Statistics, that having good friendships and relationships improves our quality of life.
Last Tuesday, it was announced that out of the respondents to a recent ONS survey reporting high levels of satisfaction with life, 84.2% said they had high levels of satisfaction with their personal relationships.
Despite sometimes reinforcing the already apparent, these new results from the ONS Measuring National Wellbeing programme (or “David Cameron’s Happiness Agenda” as it Labour have dubbed it) are interesting – simultaneously providing an indication of our nation’s wellbeing whilst failing to capture the important impact of variations in age and situation.
- Approximately 1 in 20 adults aged over 16 feel “completely lonely” in their daily lives (this was 4.5% of survey respondents)
Whilst this is probably useful to know, it is disappointing that there is no further break-down of to this question as it would be beneficial to compare self-reporting of loneliness across different age groups.
It is likely that more of the older respondents would report feeling completely lonely in their daily lives, as other research has found around 8-10% of those aged 65 in Britain felt lonely all or most of the time – a proper breakdown could help us measure changes to this older figure.
- Older age groups are more likely to report trust in people their neighbourhood than younger age groups. 91% of 65-74s reported that “many or some people” could be trusted in their neighbourhood compared to 72% of 16-24s
- The proportion of people who felt strongly that they belonged to a neighbourhood also changes with age – 87% of those aged over 65 “felt strongly that they belonged to their neighbourhood” compared to 66% of 25-34 year olds
These statistics are positive but both questions unfortunately fail to capture that where you live (for example in a rural or urban population) can have a big impact on our wellbeing and vulnerability to loneliness.
As Professor Thomas Scharf explained in our launch publication, Safeguarding the Convoy urban areas create a higher risk of loneliness in older age because cities are designed around the needs of younger people, high population turnover makes it “difficult to keep longstanding connections” and crime or anti-social behaviour can become an obstacle to getting out and about.
So, whilst we welcome attempts to measure the different aspects of wellbeing we must also continue to seek the context and remember that loneliness is (and will always be) a very individualised emotional experience.
This article has had 2 comments
JenThat’s a very big and a wide open question, Send My Thoughts on Loneliness?I ingmiae that we’re all lonely at least some of the time, but do we all experience the same thing and do we necesarily know what we mean by loneliness. I live alone and am unattached, not my ideal situation but am I lonely? There’s a Lindisfarne song which is either called or contains the line no I’m not lonely I’m only here by myself . Thinking back on my life so far when have I felt most lonely? Oh I know that answer to that one, lying in bed next to the girl that I loved but who I felt didn’t love me. These days it’s not that often that I feel lonely I’m usually pretty busy and not thinking about it but I know that if I do sit down and think about it, lonely is what I am. It really is though, the product of thinking about it far more than the lack of that special person or an endless train of friends knocking on my door. Then of course there is the question of just who counts as a friend, an exgirlfriend takes the view that only those people who pop round for a coffee count as friends, and that someone you can chat to for 3 hrs on the phone doesn’t count and neither would someone that you only see when engaged in a particular activity. Ultimately yes I would love to have that special woman in my life, and this does skew the activities that I engage in towards those areas where I think it more likely that I might meet someone. Anyway not sure how coherent that is or how usefull you will find it but if it helps great, and if you want to talk about it then feel free to get in touch, I’ve not kept a copy though so please forgive me if I can’t remember it all.
Whilst responding to a University assignment, I photo-documented an elderly man in my town. Initially, in my response, I suggested that Gordon was lonely, but then amended that to ‘aloneness’ as I felt that I was being presumptive, but later changed my view back to ‘lonely’ as I go to know him better during the course of the project. In a second project, Rosie a 70-year old woman, who told me during one of our photo-sessions, that she was “lonely”. In my role as a Documentary Photographer I frequently photograph people who admit to being “lonely”.
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