How happy are New Zealanders?


How happy are you?  How well are you doing in your life?  How happy are New Zealanders, and how do they compare with other countries?

All big questions. You can find out how you compare with the average New Zealander of your age and sex here.  You can access the Sovereign New Zealand Wellbeing Index here.  You can view TVNZ’s Sunday episode aired on the topic here.

I am very proud to announce the public release of this Sovereign New Zealand Wellbeing Index. It’s the first survey point in a six-year research partnership with Sovereign .  It’s also the first time anyone has tried to understand the epidemiology of wellbeing in a large (n=10,000) population representative sample in NZ.  We will follow some of the same cohort across the six years. The basic logic is that if you want to improve the wellbeing of the population, then first you had better measure it, and generate some hypothesis forming associations.

We also used the same measures as used in the European Social Survey wellbeing module.

So this has been several months’ work for me, and even more work for my dedicated research team, as well as a team at Sovereign working on the comms side.  Thanks everyone for the enormous amount of work.

Actually, that’s been the coolest thing about this project. The well developed comms and advocacy angle that Sovereign has been able to bring to the partnership.  They’ve got an interest in reducing stress and increasing wellbeing straight out form a claims perspective as well as the corporate social responsibility angle

Frankly, we are very used to doing high quality research which mostly gets published in journals a few people read, and a few masters and PhD theses which even fewer (maybe even only a few!) people read.

So now, we have had a great link into releasing the report, advocating government and policy makers, getting TV and media coverage of the results and so forth.

Mostly, I’ve been blogging about nutrition, exercise, weight loss and chronic disease prevention and treatment research at the Human Potential Centre at AUT University. That’s where I am a Professor (Public Health) and the Director of this research centre.  I will do a few more blogs in the wellbeing space to augment this report release.

Wellbeing is an area we are really getting into.  We are trying to bring many of the principles of positive psychology into health. We also want to bring some of the principles of health, especially nutrition and exercise into positive psychology. Each discipline has lots to offer, but combined even more so.

These sorts of national accounts or indices of wellbeing have become popular in Europe recently and other less robust world-wide measures like the Happy Planet Index. To our knowledge, we are the first to do both mainstream health measures and wellbeing measures.

Sunday on TVNZ did a great job of presenting some of the results.  Thanks TVNZ.  See here.

You can go online and either take the entire survey and see what we measured, or just the “7-item flourishing scale”   Goto We have the norms for your age and sex, so you can compare you results with those overall and of similar kiwis in the survey.  Have a go its fun.  Take the quiz.

Results for the Sovereign Wellbeing Index (This is the exec summary – get the full report here)

This report presents key findings from the Sovereign Wellbeing Index about the wellbeing of New Zealand adults in late 2012. The survey is the first national representation of how New Zealanders are faring on a personal and social level. The Sovereign Wellbeing Index provides a much needed look into how New Zealanders are coping within the economic conditions.

Wellbeing around New Zealand

Using flourishing as a measure of wellbeing there were small but consistent effects of gender, age and income. Older, female and wealthier New Zealanders on average showed higher flourishing scores. Similar findings were found across all other measures of wellbeing giving some confidence in the convergence of measures.

  • There were only small differences in average flourishing scores between ethnic groups (NZ European slightly higher than Asian) and regions across New Zealand.
  • Social position was a powerful indicator of wellbeing. Those higher on the social ladder reported much higher wellbeing.
  • The five Winning Ways to Wellbeing were all strongly associated with higher wellbeing. People who socially connected with others (Connect), gave time and resources to others (Give), were able to appreciate and take notice of things around them (Take notice), were learning new things in their life (Keep learning), and were physically active (Be Active) experienced higher levels of wellbeing.

Super Wellbeing

We looked at the 25% of the population with the highest wellbeing scores and examined what factors defined this group from the rest of the population. This underpins the idea that psychological wealth and resources can be identified and public policy and action, and personal resources utilised to improve these determinants.

  1. Similar findings to wellbeing in general were identified. Females were 1.4 times more likely to be in the super wellbeing group than males. More older, higher income, and higher social position New Zealanders were in the super wellbeing group.
  2. Connecting, Giving, Taking notice, Keeping learning, and Being active were all strongly associated with super wellbeing.
  3. Other health measures were also strongly associated with super wellbeing. These included better overall general health, non-smokers, exercisers and those with healthier diets and weights were all more likely to experience super wellbeing.

International comparisons

When compared with 22 European countries using the same population measures, New Zealand consistently ranks near the bottom of the ranking in both Personal and Social Wellbeing. New Zealand is well behind the Scandinavian countries that lead these measures.

New Zealand ranks 17th in Personal Wellbeing. Personal Wellbeing is made up of the measures of Emotional Wellbeing (rank 16th), Satisfying Life (rank 16th), Vitality (rank 16th), Resilience and Self- esteem (rank 19th), and Positive Functioning (rank 23rd).

New Zealanders did however rank above the mean for happiness, absence of negative feelings and enjoyment of life. However, we were still well below the top ranked countries.

New Zealand ranks 22nd in Social Wellbeing. Social Wellbeing is made up of the dimensions of Supportive Relations (rank 21st), Felt lonely (rank 20th), Meet socially (rank 21st), Trust and Belonging (rank 23rd), People in local area help one another (rank 21st), Treated with respect (rank 22nd), Feel close to people in local area (rank 23rd), and most people can be trusted (rank 11th).

Further exploration of our worst-ranked Social Wellbeing indicator ‘Feeling close to people in local area’ showed considerable variation across the country with the major cities scoring worst with Auckland at the top. Regional areas fared somewhat better. Younger people and NZ European New Zealanders scored lowest.


New Zealanders make choices everyday about their wellbeing. These are both personal choices as well as democratic choices about public policy and action at local and national levels. It is our vision that this index can help frame both personal choices and public policy and action in New Zealand. If it isn’t wellbeing for ourselves and others we are ultimately striving for, then what is it?

The Sovereign Wellbeing Index will continue to monitor the wellbeing of New Zealanders over the next four years. We plan to follow-up some of the participants in this nationally representative cohort to see how their wellbeing changes with time as well as continue to run this national index and benchmark indicators against European countries.

3 Comments on “How happy are New Zealanders?

  1. Hi Grant

    Nice post!

    I was wondering if you got the association/causality right in the following:

    3. Other health measures were also strongly associated with super wellbeing. These included better overall general health, non-smokers, exercisers and those with healthier diets and weights were all more likely to experience super wellbeing.

    What if it is the other way around? That wellbeing can free energy to be more active, eat healthier be a non-smoker and by that be more healthy in general? Do you have any information that support that it is either ‘your line’ of deduction or ‘mine’ that is ‘true’? The question is – is there causality between the above mentioned – and in what direction?

    Keep blogging – I like your style!

    Thomas from Denmark

  2. Pingback: Schofield’s hormetic theory of wellbeing | The Science of Human Potential

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