One in four parents who took part in the survey of 8,000 people said they are feeling ‘intensely worried’ about money or debt, compared to one in five who answered the same questionnaire six months ago. Meanwhile the nation as a whole is feeling more concerned about money, with 19% identifying as ‘intensely worried’, compared to 17% six months ago.
According to the statistics, from the Sainsbury’s Living Well Index, created with researchers at Oxford Economics and the National Centre for Social Research, millennials are twice as likely as baby boomers to worry intensely about money, amid growing financial insecurity for younger generations.
However, there is hope: the results indicate coming together with loved ones can help boost mood, whether that’s for a meal or simply socialising.
To determine the nation’s current level of wellbeing and influencing factors, researchers asked survey questions relating to 18 topics, grouped into six major themes: community connections, finances, relationships, health, lifestyle and environment.
Out of a score of a possible 100, the nation’s average wellbeing was logged at 60.7, down 0.5 points in the last six months.
The research doesn’t go into detail about where the extra financial stress is coming from and the index points out the average household income remains broadly unchanged since the first research wave. However, a recent study by credit report service Noddle found concerns start as early as maternity and paternity leave, with one in four (25%) racking up debts of over £2,700 during this time.
Krishma Patel, 32, from Ealing, London, previously told HuffPost UK she knew she would struggle financially as soon as she fell pregnant. “It was an unplanned pregnancy, we had just bought our first house and we have a child in full-time nursery,” she said. “Maternity leave was very stressful, worrying about making ends meet is an added concern. We had to watch outgoings, purchase secondhand baby items and sell maternity/newborn gear privately to raise funds.”
While overall happiness is down, the research suggests spending time with loved ones has the potential to improve our wellbeing through difficult times.
Over half of those with the highest happiness scores met up with friends and family several times a week or more, whereas most of those at the bottom of the index did so once a month or less.
The research found the medium of these social interactions was key: despite the frequency of our digital interactions with friends and family – twice as often as face-to-face, on average – there was no association with these interactions and our wellbeing. In contrast someone who always eats meals with others scored significantly higher on the index (7.9 points) than someone who never does.
The researchers listed shared meals as one of the four most important factors explaining the ‘living well gap’ – the difference between the score of an average Brit and the 100-point maximum – behind sleep quality, sex life satisfaction and feeling like you have enough time.
As our happiness depends so much on spending time with loved ones, it’s perhaps not surprising the researchers also identified the extreme cold weather as a significant cause of the decline in wellbeing. February’s ‘Beast from the East’ caused transport chaos and left many trapped in their houses, unable to see loved ones or others in their community.
Commenting on the findings, Ian Mulheirn, director of consulting at Oxford Economics and lead researcher on the project, said: “It stands to reason that we all feel happier in the summer months, but the analysis suggests this is partly because we socialise more and spend more time outside, which we’re less able to do in winter. And in an age of unprecedented digital distraction, it appears that real, human connections are far more beneficial to our wellbeing than the connections we make online.”
You can take a simplified version of the Living Well survey to see how your score compares to others’ here.