Happiness effect down to sense of belonging, study shows

Individuals who feel a strong sense of belonging to social groups are much happier people, according to new research by psychologists.

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The NTU research is published in the Journal of Happiness Studies

Individuals who feel a strong sense of belonging to social groups are much happier people, according to new research by psychologists.

Nottingham Trent University studied the extent to which almost 4,000 participants felt connected to certain groups, and then measured the impact this had upon their levels of happiness.

The study – reported in the Journal of Happiness Studies – found that the more an individual identified with a particular group, the more happy they were with their life.

Furthermore, with each additional group that people connected with, their happiness increased by nine percent, the researchers found.

Our findings suggest that thinking more about one's group life could have significant benefits

Dr Juliet Wakefield, Nottingham Trent University

The levels by which participants identified with their family, local community, and a group of their choice – such as sports, hobby or religious groups – were measured via psychological scales following detailed questionnaires, along with their general happiness levels.

The researchers, based within the University's School of Social Sciences, believe that the effect could be the result of group identification providing individuals with a stronger sense of purpose and security, as well crucial social support during times of stress and crisis.

They argue that health professionals, therapists and community workers should encourage their patients and clients to join groups with which they might identify, or remain with groups of which they are already members.

"Our findings suggest that thinking more about one's group life could have significant benefits for an overall sense of wellbeing," said Dr Juliet Wakefield, a psychologist at Nottingham Trent University.

She said: "We tend to identify with groups that share our values, interests and life priorities, as well as those that support us in times of crisis, and we can see how this would link to happiness. Our work taps into knowledge that is deep within all of us, but which we often forget due to the fast-paced and achievement-focused nature of modern life – that to be your best self, you tend to require the support of others.

Healthcare professionals should encourage people to join groups that they are interested in, or which promote their values and ideals

Dr Juliet Wakefield, Nottingham Trent University

"It's important to note that identifying with a group isn't the same as membership, though. You can be a member of a group with which you feel no connection at all. It's that subjective sense of belonging that's crucial for happiness.

"Healthcare professionals should encourage people to join groups that they are interested in, or which promote their values and ideals, as well as advising people to maintain association with groups they already belong to. Simple social interventions such as this could in turn help to reduce NHS expenditure and prevent future ill health."

The researchers found that the relationship between group identification and happiness remained even after the researchers took into account participant gender, age, employment status, nationality, and the extent of their contact with each group.

The study also involved the University of Dundee, Park House Surgery, Astley Ainslie Hospital, Cooperativa Medica Valdarno and the University of St Andrews.

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    Nottingham Trent University's five-year strategic plan "Creating the University of the Future" has five main ambitions: Creating Opportunity, Valuing Ideas, Enriching Society, Connecting Globally and Empowering People.

    The Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education was awarded to Nottingham Trent University in November 2015.  It is the highest national honour for a UK university and recognises the institution's world-class research. Pioneering projects to improve weapons and explosives detection in luggage, enable safer production of powdered infant formula, and combat food fraud, led to the prestigious award.

Happiness effect down to sense of belonging, study shows

Published on 20 May 2016
  • Category: Press office; Research; School of Social Sciences

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