Tragedies a turn for the better

Tragedies a turn for the better

10 April 2009

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Australia — The Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria and the devastating floods in Queensland have increased people’s sense of community and made them feel safer, a survey has found.

The Australian Unity Wellbeing Index has found our overall level of personal satisfaction is at its highest since the Athens Olympics in 2004 despite the global economic crisis and the natural disasters.

The author of the index, Professor Bob Cummins, of the School of Psychology at Deakin University, said those surveyed felt an enhanced connection with the community after the relief effort and the donations given to those affected by the bushfires and floods.

“Events such as these generate an enormous outpouring of sympathy and tangible assistance, which possibly caused the population to experience a heightened sense of belonging to the Australian family,” said Professor Cummins.

The spike followed a trend shown by the index where levels of personal wellbeing rose after major national or international events, such as the Olympics, the September 11 terrorist attacks, the lead-up to the Iraq war or the 2005 Bali bombings.

A perceived source of threat will cause a group to become more socially cohesive, Professor Cummins said.

The increased sense of safety reported by the 1500 respondents, however, was probably explained by city dwellers experiencing the tragedies from the comfort of their living rooms.

“The images of danger from fire and floods have been so vividly portrayed by the media that the majority of people, who live in unaffected areas such as the major cities, felt an enhanced sense of safety in contrast,” he said.

The index measures subjective wellbeing by asking people how they feel about their health, relationships, safety, standard of living, life achievements, community connection, future security and spirituality/religion.

The latest survey, conducted from the end of February to the beginning of March in Victoria, Queensland and South Australia (excluding areas affected by flood or fires), found overall wellbeing had risen by 1.1 points to 75.93 since October 2008.

Despite the economic downturn, satisfaction with standard of living had risen by 1.4 points to 78.7, the second-highest level in eight years.

Professor Cummins says although many people have lost wealth with the downturn, most are not dependent on these investments for their livelihood and have confidence that the economy will recover over time.

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