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Press Release - 23 March 2006

Family relationships are key to happiness - shows study of Bangladesh poor

Eight out of ten people in one of the poorest countries in the world describe themselves as ‘happy’, and they cite the strength of their relationship with loved ones as the key, according to a new report out this week.

Whilst achievement of individual goals and personal wealth remain the most significant contributors to happiness in Europe and North America, in Bangladesh and other parts of South and East Asia it seems to depend more on the quality of social relationships.

This finding could provide a partial explanation for the lack of success of development interventions in recent years, many of which are based on assumptions about the initiatives likely to bring the greatest benefit to individuals.

The working paper ‘Relationships, Happiness and Wellbeing: Insights from Bangladesh’ is the latest report from the ESRC Wellbeing in Developing Countries (WeD) research group at the University of Bath.

The WeD research group is working with some of the poorest communities in the world to help develop a greater understanding of the factors which influence quality of life and wellbeing in these areas.

“Understanding the local realities in which people pursue their wellbeing is an essential part developing effective development intervention and policy,” said Dr Allister McGregor, Director of WeD.

“Consequently, in spite of a huge assault on poverty, the reality today is that the persistence of deep and wide-spread poverty remains more striking than the handful of success stories.

“Quality of life studies are just one of the tools that help to illustrate the important roles played by the social, cultural and political networks that influence wellbeing.

“A sound understanding of these kinds of issues at local level must become an essential part of future development initiatives, not least because it ensures that interventions are appropriate to the issues that people really need to be addressed.”

The exploratory quality of life research undertaken by the WeD group revealed a number of key characteristics about what makes a good relationship for Bangladeshi people.

They found that:

  • Older mothers valued being treated affectionately by sons and daughter-in-laws as much as receiving material support
  • Participation and consultation in decision-making was singled out as an important indicator of a happy marriage
  • For younger women the most crucial relationship was with their husband
  • A good husband provides for his wife’s and their family’s needs, and is also respectful and acknowledges her competence
  • Younger women focused on the quality of their personal relationship with members of their husband’s family, primarily their husband’s mother, sisters, and sisters-in-law
  • All the groups, apart from older women, made connections between happiness and a desire to be respected and/or influential beyond the immediate confines of family relationships
  • Older men valued the ability to participate in and influence the affairs of the community

“Some of the older people we spoke to strongly valued close and harmonious relationships with family members, to the extent that they even enabled them to ignore physical hardship,” said Dr McGregor.

“Even though at times they don’t get enough food to eat, these people were still happy because they have good relationships with the rest of their family.”

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A family from Bangladesh



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