Having a positive sense of who we are, and where we fit in the world, is essential for our well-being. A confident sense of identity also builds our resilience.
Our well-being reflects how happy we are, how much we enjoy life, and how positively we function in it. Our levels of well-being can change from time to time, depending on what’s going on for us and how we see ourselves.
In a 2016 study at the University of Nottingham, in England, Dr Ylenio Longo and his team looked at the essential factors that can help describe a person’s level of well-being. Fourteen well-being factors were pinpointed: happiness, vitality, calmness, optimism, involvement, self-awareness, self-acceptance, self-worth, competence, development, purpose, significance, congruence, and connection.
(link to study: What exactly is well being? )
Knowing who we are, accepting ourselves and believing we have value, is a very important part of our well-being. In other words, having a positive sense of our identity keeps us happy and well.
The New Zealand Mental Health Foundation’s research has found that building five key actions into our lives is important for us all - including families. They are:
- connect, me whakawhanaunga
- give, tukua
- take notice, me aro tonu
- keep learning, me ako tonu
- be active, me kori tonu.
(link to study: Ways to wellbeing )
Even if we didn’t have the best start in life, we can develop positive well-being. We can gradually raise our level of well-being by making good choices, looking after ourselves, connecting with others, and having a positive/optimistic outlook.
Our sense of identity is who we experience ourselves to be. It helps us understand ourselves – who we are, what we can do, and make sense of where fit into our community and the world.
Our personal identity is shaped by all kinds of things, including:
- our family experiences
- our relationships with others
- our ethnicity and culture
- our gender and sexual orientation
- the beliefs and values we develop
- the strengths and skills we have
- groups we belong to
- things that happen to us
- feedback from others
- our opinion about ourselves
- what we see in the media and through social media
- what we learn from the world around us.
Having a positive sense of identity helps you to:
- have good self-awareness, self-acceptance, and self-worth
- feel good about who you are – have self-esteem
- know you belong and feel included in a social group
- feel your background and culture is respected
- achieve what is important to you
- develop confidence
- become independent
- experience the support of others and be willing to offer support to them
- build inner resilience to cope with adversity.
Our sense of identity will change with us, as we go through life. At any stage we can strengthen it ourselves, or with support from others. Key questions we can ask might be: Who am I? What has helped to make me, me? What makes me unique? What are my skills and strengths? What challenges me most? What do I want for myself in life?
Knowing our cultural identity Secure cultural identity is essential to well-being. Having a strong and positive sense of one's cultural distinctiveness helps people of any age to feel connected to others and part of a group where they’re accepted and valued. It gives people confidence to respond if others ever question, ignore or belittle their cultural choices or activities. It can help people find the support and self-assurance to take positive action against discrimination and bullying and to stand tall. It also helps people to recognise others’ differences and respect the variety of cultural backgrounds in our communities today. People learn about their cultural identity in many ways. For example, having conversations with others they respect, listening to stories, learning a shared language, discovering what values are most important, and taking part in cultural activities and rituals.
gender and sexual identity
A person’s gender and sexual orientation are important parts of who they are. Learning more about these identity elements can help a person understand themselves better, and others, and the world around them.
How to improve our sense of identity and level of well-being These are always developing. Looking after yourself well, is a great place to start. Look at the well-being and identity factors listed above and think about where you’re at right now. What things would you like to strengthen and build up? How might you do that? Find trusted people or organisations you could talk to, or who could help you with this.