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The Sainsbury’s Living Well Index: A landmark study carried out by Oxford Economics and the National Centre for Social Research

How well are British households living? To answer this question, we could look at measures such as the average household income or GDP. But how we all define and experience life goes far beyond any single, simple factor such as the money we have. To find the answer, we need to look more broadly.

Our wellbeing – how happy, satisfied and anxious we feel and our sense of self-worth – matters to individual people, to families and communities and to the many organisations working to improve our society.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has been measuring our collective wellbeing since 2011 through national surveys, using four questions on happiness, satisfaction, self-worth and anxiety to build a picture of our sense of wellbeing and how it has evolved. The work they’ve done raises some interesting next-step questions about what affects our sense of wellbeing and what’s driving changes in our wellbeing.

This major new piece of research, commissioned by Sainsbury’s and carried out by Oxford Economics and the National Centre for Social Research, seeks to go further – to define, quantify and track what it means to live well. It explores what lies behind how we live rather than who we are. This approach provides a uniquely comprehensive overview of what drives how we feel so we can find out which factors are most important overall and which ones matter most to different people.

Based on a panel survey taken every six months, the Living Well Index will track how the nation is living across six themes relating to the places we live, our lifestyle choices, our health and the strength of our finances, relationships and community connections. This gives us a broader range of data about what people have, what they do and how they feel than in any previous survey on wellbeing.

We will also follow the same survey respondents over time, to move beyond simple descriptions of how people feel to also uncover the relationships between certain characteristics and what determines wellbeing. In time, we will be able to pinpoint what causes some people to live better than others. This paper shares what we discovered in our inaugural survey.

First, we found that our wellbeing can be explained by two things: who we are (characteristics like age, sex, ethnicity and education); and how we live (such as how we spend our time, how much we earn, and whether we have children or are married). We discovered that the latter - our lived experience – plays a much larger role than who we are in determining how we feel about life.

We analysed the results to uncover which aspects of how we live had the strongest associations with how we feel about our lives – and these factors form the Living Well Index. We also examined how these factors affect us at different life stages; which Living Well differences across the population separate people living very well from those who are struggling; and what appears to be holding the typical person back from living better.We hope these insights provide information to people, policymakers and other groups supporting society so we live happier, more satisfying lives – and support others to do the same.