Humans are social creatures. The frequency of our contact with others and the quality of our personal relationships are thus crucial determinants of our well-being. Studies show that time spent with friends is associated with a higher average level of positive feelings and a lower average level of negative feelings than time spent in other ways.
Helping others can also make you happier. People who volunteer tend to be more satisfied with their lives than those who do not. Time spent volunteering also contributes to a healthy civil society . On average, people across selected OECD countries, spend 4 minutes per day in volunteer activities. People in New-Zealand, Ireland and the United States spend more than twice that time volunteering. In several countries, however, people spend hardly any time volunteering. This is the case in Hungary, Korea, Poland, Slovenia, France, Estonia, Spain and Mexico.
Would you help a stranger? Nearly 47% of people across OECD countries say they have helped a stranger in the last month. OECD countries with a large share of respondents reporting to have helped a stranger also tend to have high levels of volunteering, Around 65% of people in the United States, Australia and Canada reported helping a stranger in the last month ,
Social Support Network
A strong social network, or community, can provide emotional support during both good and bad times as well as access to jobs, services and other material opportunities. Across the OECD, 91% of people believe that they know someone they could rely on in time of need. There is little difference between men and women, as 92% of women believe they have this kind of social support, compared with 90% for men.
While gender has little impact on social network support, there is a clear relationship between the availability of social support on the one hand, and people’s education and income, on the other . Around 87% of the bottom 20% report having someone to count on for help in times of need, compared to over 93% for the top 20%.
A weak social network can result in limited economic opportunities, a lack of contact with others, and eventually, feelings of isolation. Social isolation may follow family breakdown, the loss of a job, illness or financial difficulties. Once socially isolated, individuals may face greater difficulties not only reintegrating society as a contributing member, but also fulfilling personal aspirations with respect to work, family and friends. Across the OECD, close to 7% of people reported ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ spending time with friends, colleagues or others in social settings.
Note: data for the indicator “Quality of Support Network” is provided by the Gallup World Poll.