The relationship factor

Publish date 27-12-2021

by Pierluigi Conzo

The antidote to the negative effects of the pandemic on well-being


Emphasizing that "social" allocation actually means "physical" distancing is not a mere rhetorical exercise. In recent months we have been physically distant, but at the same time socially close. Social interaction without its physical alter ego necessarily loses some important aspects for our well-being, but… better than nothing, or not? A chapter of the latest World Happiness Report identifies some factors that influenced subjective well-being during the pandemic. Several studies have shown that, even if physically distant, staying socially connected and active has mitigated the negative effects on our mental well-being. But let's go in order. First, it has been observed almost all over the world that Covid-19 has had a negative psychological impact. A study conducted in the US shows that happiness and life satisfaction saw one of the biggest declines during the pandemic, along with mental and physical health.

Another study conducted in the UK found that positive emotions (feeling happy, energetic, inspired, optimistic) became increasingly rare while some negative emotions (feeling sad, stressed, afraid, frustrated) increased at the onset of the pandemic. , however, returning to pre-pandemic levels during the May 2020 lockdown. Other studies have pointed out that some people have lived through this period surprisingly well. For example, a sample of respondents in France, especially if not directly exposed to the disease, reported increases in health and well-being during quarantine, regardless of income level. Other research has found no changes in life satisfaction before and during the pandemic.

These different findings can be explained by the role that various protective factors and risk factors played in subjective well-being during Covid-19. Among the former is the quality and quantity of social relations, which have "protected" well-being during the pandemic. For example, those who felt more connected and closer to other people also reported increases in their life satisfaction, while an increase in the sense of loneliness was associated with a decrease in it. In addition to the quality of social relationships, the number of relationships people accessed during Covid-19 also positively influenced well-being. Prosocial behavior, such as volunteering, is another factor that improved people's well-being before and during pandemics.

According to some research, people are able to have prosocial behaviors and to help others even when they are under stress or during an emergency, as often happens immediately after natural disasters. This behavior tends to increase the happiness and satisfaction of life both of those who help and those who receive it. Even social media, although in general have negative effects on well-being, seem to have had a positive effect during the pandemic, especially when they provide for the possibility of interacting with each other also vocally.

On the other hand, the factors that have had a negative impact include intolerance to uncertainty, the presence of pre-existing mental disorders, physical distancing, the feeling of loneliness and the lack of a social support network. According to some studies, parents and children seem to have suffered a decline in subjective well-being, probably due to the difficulties in family management imposed by working from home and online lessons. All these results are correlational in nature: they do not clearly identify a cause-effect relationship between the various factors involved. However, this does not exclude the possibility that some factors, especially socio-relational ones, may have really played an important role in reducing the negative effects of the pandemic on well-being.

To confirm this, other studies that have focused on negative events other than this pandemic, have come to similar conclusions, highlighting that relationships, even if they often do not solve material problems, can offer effective support for the subjective well-being of people during periods of difficulty.

Pierluigi Conzo

NP Ottobre 2021

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