At 4theRegion our mission is to co-create a happier, healthier South West Wales with a thriving economy. And what do we mean by ‘thriving’? For us, in the truest sense of the word, thriving is about wellbeing.

What do we hope for? (Pic: Engin Akyurt)

We’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of hope. Amplifying hope is a big part of what we’re trying to do, because when people are hopeful about the future they are happier and healthier. We took the title for this article from a book by Shane J Lopez. Drawing on the largest study of hopeful people ever conducted, he argues that hope isn’t just an emotion, it’s an essential life tool!

We believe all conversations should start with what’s working well. We call this asset based community development, which we ground in social purpose and underpin with wellbeing. We engage with people, businesses and organisations who want to see South West Wales flourish.

So what do we hope for?

We want to see the region leading in making new ways of living, working, and organising our society and economy, so that it’s more visible, accessible and relevant to everyone who lives here. And there’s so much to feel positive about here in South West Wales! An amazing natural environment. Caring communities. A brilliant quality of life. We want to make South West Wales the UK’s first wellbeing region. Imagine if we made wellbeing our unique selling point, our regional identity, and our shared purpose?

So what can help us understand wellbeing?

Neo-liberalism has promoted the idea that we are in competition with one and other. This view leads to an increased sense of social isolation, which impacts on individual wellbeing. However, recent developments in wellbeing science have seen a move beyond just looking at ourselves as individuals, and instead taking a broader view that encompasses the wellbeing of people and planet.

The Covid-19 pandemic meant we all started to think more about wellbeing. It gave us increased opportunities to work from home, and gave us a greater awareness of how work stresses impacted employees than we had before the pandemic. And it showed our capacity for hope! Research shows we protected our wellbeing by learning to understand there can be hope and meaning in life even in the midst of pain and suffering. This is what psychologists call ‘tragic optimism’. Of course, this wasn’t all. Other things that protected our wellbeing included gratitude, our physical health, social cohesion and identity, and connecting with nature. At a biological level, there’s now compelling evidence for the interconnectedness of physical and mental health. Our wellbeing has a causal link with our health and longevity.

Academics at Swansea University have developed the GENIAL framework which explicitly links wellbeing and health. This covers individual wellbeing (including a balanced mind and a healthy body), collective wellbeing (social connectedness), and planetary wellbeing (connection with nature). It recognises that individuals must first understand how to care for themselves in order to then care for others and care for the environment. The capacity for individuals to promote their own wellbeing will be greater than their capacity to promote collective wellbeing, which is greater than the capacity to promote planetary wellbeing. Nevertheless, there is massive potential for us to promote our individual wellbeing alongside larger collaborative efforts such as community partnerships, collaborative working, and activism to address various societal challenges such as climate change.

So how are the academics doing this in practice?

They introduce their students to the concept of sustainable happiness and wellbeing. This is about placing happiness and wellbeing within the context of environmental sustainability. This means strategies to promote wellbeing that don’t involve the exploitation of other people, the environment or future generations.

They also recognise people living with chronic conditions have tremendous potential for wellbeing. Surf therapy, for example, brings together people with acquired brain injury and their families to engage with nature based exercise, facilitating wellbeing, and hopefully encouraging pro-environmental behaviour.

At 4theRegion we want to co-create a happier, healthier South West Wales, with a thriving economy in the truest sense of the word. Thriving is about wellbeing. Let’s make hope happen!

We think it’s important to be forward looking, which is why all our events and conversations start with what’s working well. We want people to appreciate the good things about South West Wales, and celebrate the beautiful corner of the world where we live! Positivity is at heart of everything we do, with the Swansea City Centre Conference being no different! We’re celebrating and showcasing what we love about the regional capital. Join us in Swansea Arena on March 17th. Register here for your free tickets.