Things are often more fun and beneficial when we work together; exploring and supporting wellbeing is no different. Co-creating effective paths to wellbeing involves building strong networks through which we can share knowledge, experience and practical support. In this blog post we share the outcomes of a recent workshop we hosted at the Wellbeing 2016 conference in Birmingham. Our participatory workshop and accompanying paper were titled ‘Building Wellbeing Together’, and explored how to build effective wellbeing networks.

Why build a wellbeing network?

The  quality of our relationships shape our wellbeing perhaps more than anything else. Extensive research demonstrates that those close to their family, friends, or community tend to be happier and healthier than their less social counterparts. Networks include, but also reach beyond, these relationships to include places we regularly visit and also the online connections and media we regularly engage with.

Those we interact with through our different networks have extensive influence over our ideas and behaviours. Nicholas Christakis, Professor at Harvard Medical School, has done extensive research on this, and argues that our experience of the world is shaped by our networks.

Christakis’ study on networks and obesity, for example, found that if our friends are obese we are 45% more likely to be obese; if our friend’s friend is obese we are 25% more likely; and if it’s our friend’s, friend’s, friend there is a 10% higher risk. Christakis says this could be due to shared behaviours between friends, but could also be down to people influencing each other’s behaviour and norms. Christakis concludes that it is clear to envisage ways this power of networks can be positive as well as negative.

Strong wellbeing networks can help us connect with each other, access the resources we need and take action to enable healthier cities and communities. They offer people a chance to learn and an opportunity to discuss and explore ideas in more depth. They can also contribute to building wellbeing in wider society, helping to amplify individuals’ ideas and actions, and shift societal norms.

How can we build a network?

Given these many benefits, we are exploring ways we can help to build and support strong wellbeing networks – through workshops in particular communities and online through our blog, videos and social media.

In our workshop at Well-being2016 we introduced a variety of network-building activities we have tried out previously – including Happiness Haikus, taking photos outside in nature and sharing resources – and got participants to try them out.

Some participants shared information on organisations and resources that could improve wellbeing, including blogs such as the University of Stirling’s Behavioural Science Centre blog, books such as Retirementality, organisations such as the What Works Centre for Wellbeing, and even individual researchers such as psychologist Professor Alex Wood.

Others reflected on their own wellbeing, by creating and sharing happy haikus (shown below) and photographs (as shown on the right, taken by Tania Ruthven).

Happy Haikus:

When I go outside,

The trees and woods talk to me,

I am not alone.

Walking through nature,

Being, doing, belonging,

Life, joy, happiness.

Doing these activities together helped participants at the workshop to reflect on their own wellbeing, and also connect with and learn from each other. We will continue to experiment with these and other activities to encourage people to think about and share ideas to improve their wellbeing and are keen to learn about and share approaches tried by others.

Get involved in building wellbeing together

Here at NOW, we offer people online and offline places to learn about and discuss wellbeing, in order to connect and inform people, and ultimately to support stronger individual and societal wellbeing.

Through our work, we are exploring the best ways to offer these networking spaces in order to strengthen wider wellbeing. We don’t have all of the answers, but we try to offer valuable ways for people to come together and explore key questions and actions around ‘building wellbeing together’.

We offer up our blog to guest contributors as a resource for people to share thinking about wellbeing and activities that improve it, and we encourage people to comment on and discuss what we post. We post video interviews with key wellbeing thinkers and short films on our own and other’s wellbeing activities.

We have set up a Building Wellbeing Together Facebook group to offer one space for people to share ideas, questions, events and projects linked to wellbeing.

Plus, from 22nd-24th September 2017 we’ll be running a Building Wellbeing Together Weekend event with Hawkwood College to bring together thought leaders and practitioners, performers, artists and teachers from many disciplines to reflect, share and experience how we can build personal, societal and environmental wellbeing together. So please save the date and join us there if you can!

If you have specific ideas or ways you’d like to contribute please get in touch, and if you’re just generally interested in staying informed you can sign up to our monthly newsletter list, and follow us on social media.

And huge thanks to all organisers and participants for making Birmingham Wellbeing 2016 such a wonderful and inspiring event!