Well-Being and its Importance for Community

In the last post I talked about how community and regional collaboration fit together and started talking a bit about how well-being is a key catalyst toward both of these. This post will focus on well-being and how we can work to ensure it for everyone.

Well-being is an important measure of how various forces interact with and affect our lives and the access to material and non-material items making up our quality of life. Wilkinson (1999) suggests well-being contains three components: personal, ecological, and social. As they interact, the foundation of community well-being is established.

white love free standing letters
Love and belongingness are two key things community can provide. Photo by Swapnil Deshpandey on Pexels.com

Personal well-being is affected by a wide variety of social, psychological, and personal experience factors and differs greatly from person to person. Perhaps the most widely known model of personal well-being is Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: physiological, safety, belongingness/love, esteem, and self-actualization. Each of these fill a specific role in our lives and we cannot reach our full potential (self-actualization) if the lower order physiological, safety, love, and esteem needs are not met.

Ecological well-being reflects the health of the environment around us and is central to both social and personal well-being because it is the source of the materials needed to fulfill our lower-order needs. Ecological well-being all too often comes at the expense of personal and social well-being, as the latter two are often tied to economic well-being that drives many contemporary quality of life definitions (Dasgupta 2001).

The final aspect, social well-being, is the measure of the quality of a person’s interactions in a community (Wilkinson 1999). This measure includes the support systems in place to promote and sustain personal well-being, the opportunities available to take advantage of them, and their impact on both the community and individuals.

Wilkinson lists five important items that a community needs to support social well-being:

  1. Distributive justice;
  2. Open communication;
  3. Tolerance;
  4. Collective action; and
  5. Communion.

Let’s take a look at each of these elements.

Distributive justice is the belief that all people are equal and that removal of barriers and inequalities increase communication and interactions within a community. This is the ideal upon which community development as a whole revolves around.

Open communication refers to the efficiency, effectiveness, and integrity of communications among people; any barriers in communication are barriers to social well-being. Simply put – if people do not know something is happening, they cannot add their talents or make their thoughts heard. Communicating across generations is an increasingly important topic for both businesses and leaders.

Tolerance refers to the acceptance of the values and beliefs of others and is also an integral component of personal well-being. Everyone has something to offer to the fabric of our places. Removing barriers – and particularly intolerance – can have huge effects on our ability to tap into these resources.

Collective action refers to the degree to which people in a community work together. This particular element is the foundation upon which social fields and the community field emerge. Barriers to being able to work together and engage with each other are barriers to the emergence of community.

Communion is the celebration of community and the relationships that exist within it. We often don’t take the time to stop and celebrate who we are and what we do. We often just go on to the next project or program and don’t take time to thank people for doing what they do.

When looking at the three components of well-being – personal, environmental, and social – together, we can see their importance for the formation of social fields and community fields. Well-being is about one’s ability to engage with and participate in activities promoting self- and community-health. It’s about creating places and environments that provide the basic necessities and promote interaction and engagement amongst community members. Well-being is also about sharing a combined understanding and sense of place.

Anything acting as a barrier to well-being is also a barrier to social and community field formation because it limits the ability of individuals to engage in activities which create social fields. When social fields cannot form, community fields cannot, which in turn means that community does not emerge.

The implications for community work are apparent. As we discussed in the last post, many community development programs fail because they do not take into consideration the wide variety of factors which influence well-being and social field emergence. They do not address the barriers to communication, tolerance, communion, and distributive justice which in turn prevents collective action – the foundation of community.

When you engage with others in your place, think about Wilkinson’s five factors of social well-being and how the environment and individuals play into it. You may find some answers to the problems you’ve been seeing around your neighborhood.

This post is adapted from a section of my doctoral dissertation, Resilience, Community, and Perceptions of Marcellus Shale Development in the Pennsylvania Wilds (2010).

Sources and Additional Readings:

Campbell, A. 1981. The sense of well-being in America: Recent patterns and trends. New York: McGraw Hill Book Company.

Dasgupta, P. 2001. Human well-being and the environment.  New York: Oxford Press.

Wilkinson, K.P. 1999. The Community in rural America. First Social Ecology Press Ed. Middleton, WI: Social Ecology Press. (Orig. Pub. 1991)

One thought on “Well-Being and its Importance for Community

  1. Pingback: Embrace the Gray | Searching for Community

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