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Find out what NAB’s new survey has to say on whether cash can insulate against unhappiness
A lot can change in 12 months. NAB’s Australian Wellbeing Survey found men and women were keen to return to the ‘good old days’. However, its latest survey shows they aren’t so sure.
“Go back a year and you can see Australians were becoming more eager to return to some semblance of normal,” says NAB’s Head of Behavioural and Industry Economics, Dean Pearson. “But since then, people’s appetite to revert to their old lives has noticeably waned.”
It may be that our level of concern about coronavirus has reduced – as has our inclination to avoid people and places – according to this year’s NAB survey.
The survey reveals other reasons. Nearly one third of those reluctant to return to pre-COVID times pointed to their concern about the environmental impacts or pollution (29 per cent). Meanwhile, almost one quarter (24 per cent) were keen to retain their slower pace of life, with 22 per cent preferring to avoid the commute to work and about one in five (18 per cent) worried about having less time with their family.
Wealth vs wellbeing
Indeed, time – or the lack thereof – is one of the survey’s key indicators of personal wellbeing and, interestingly, it’s the one area where Australia’s wealthiest don’t appear to do so well.
According to NAB’s survey, more than twice as many people in the highest income group viewed ‘lack of time’ as a key detractor of their wellbeing compared to those in the lowest income group these past three months.
Does this mean they’re generally less content as a result?
It would seem not. While the survey found that most of us were in a relatively good space just now, those on higher salaries were essentially happier it seemed – the gap between the two cohorts’ sense of wellbeing more than doubling over the past three months.
It helped that those in the highest income bracket were more likely to respond positively to other key drivers of wellbeing – including their standard of living, physical health and mental wellbeing – and were less negatively impacted by such issues as their mortgage, social media or substance abuse.
However, underlying much of this could well be another issue: financial stress.
“Anxiety is the biggest detractor from overall emotional wellbeing and financial stress can be a key contributing cause,” Pearson says. “The survey shows that financial stress climbed steeply in the lowest income group last quarter, but eased for the highest income earners.”
That’s not to suggest the country’s wealthiest are entirely relaxed about money these days.
Finances have become a bigger issue for this cohort too, with the number of high-income earners who believed they were worse off in the second quarter noticeably up from the first three months of the year. What’s more, they’re not convinced their situation will improve in the near future.
Inflation (and the talk of more to come) may play a role here. It may also be why many are seeking a higher salary.
For the first time, NAB’s wellbeing survey asked working Australians if they intended to request a pay rise over the next 12 months. The response was insightful – for employers and employees.
According to the survey, half had their sights set on a pay rise, with two in 10 expecting one and almost three in 10 (28 per cent) intending to ask for one.
The happiness factor
That said, while money is an important factor in our wellbeing, it’s more nuanced than this.
NAB’s survey indicates pets remain our main source of happiness, right across the board, with a sizeable 61 per cent of Australians indicating they supported their personal wellbeing.
Other aspects that have made a positive difference for the majority of people include their personal safety; family and personal relationships; religion, faith or spirituality; and feeling part of their local community.
The findings around spirituality (as opposed to religion) are interesting. Much was made of the recent 2021 Census findings which found that fewer Australians had reported their religion as Christian and that almost 40 per cent had reported ‘no religion’ at all – a marked increase from 30 percent in 2016 and 22 per cent in 2011.
Yet despite these significant changes, NAB’s research suggests that an increasing number of Australians are identifying as ‘spiritual’ rather than ‘religious’ since COVID. “While those belonging to an organised religious entity are on the decline, it seems that many continue to seek comfort from spirituality – if not specific doctrines and rituals,” Pearson says.
Who’s doing well… and who’s struggling?
While there’s no magic bullet when it comes to our sense of personal wellbeing, some cohorts do seem to be having an easier time of it just now.
Overall, wellbeing remains highest for those aged over 65 – presumably those individuals no longer in the workforce or about to leave it.
Men, meanwhile, continue to surpass women when it comes to their overall level of happiness. Aside from pets and religion, faith and spirituality, men appear to derive much more happiness from things like sleep and work. It’s women, on the other hand, who are especially weighed down by a lack of time.
The way forward
Yet for all that, most of us are doing just fine.
NAB’s survey shows that our sense of wellbeing remains above the long-term average, with slight improvements in perceptions of life worth, life satisfaction and happiness. At the same time, the vast majority of Australians consider themselves ‘moderately’ healthy across all aspects of their health.
“That’s our physical health, but it’s also our emotional and mental state, our ability to cope with the everyday stresses of life – to take pleasure and satisfaction from life,” Pearson says. “It’s also about our social health. On the whole, it seems we’re doing okay when it comes to the quality of our relationships with others.”
The question is: do we have the resilience to withstand the trials ahead?
That comes down to those key drivers of wellbeing – including our financial security and standard of living. While our level of wealth doesn’t necessarily dictate our degree of happiness, it clearly helps. It’s all the more reason to stay in control of our finances at a time of ongoing challenges.
Then again, our standard of living can be so much more than a nice house. For those of us who aren’t so keen to return to the pre-COVID days, time is clearly an issue – as it is for many of us in the highest income bracket. Whatever else is going on in our lives, we need the time to connect – with our family and friends and communities – but also, importantly, ourselves.
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