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The silent transition in everyday well-being poses new challenges for society

Sitra’s Innovation Programme launched the National Foresight Network at the beginning of 2006. The aim of the Network is to identify the new challenges that Finnish society will face in the future and to make Finnish decision-makers aware of them and put them on the public agenda. The results from the Network have now been compiled in a report entitled Towards a competitive welfare society by Timo Hämäläinen.

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The report entitled Towards a competitive welfare society presents results from the National Foresight Network

30 August 2006

Sitra’s Innovation Programme launched the National Foresight Network at the beginning of 2006. The aim of the Network is to identify the new challenges that Finnish society will face in the future and to make Finnish decision-makers aware of them and put them on the public agenda.

During its first year of operation, the Network has focused on five areas expected to bring substantial future challenges. These are: well-being and everyday living, working life, the public sector, environmental issues and multiculturalism. The results have now been compiled in a report entitled Kohti hyvinvoivaa ja kilpailukykyistä yhteiskuntaa (‘Towards a competitive welfare society’) by Timo Hämäläinen. The report highlights the silent transition in everyday well-being that has taken place in Finnish society and that has been overshadowed by the debate on the economy and the welfare state.

The silent transition in everyday well-being

Over the past few years, public debate has been dominated by the challenges posed by the transition in the global economy and the reform of the welfare state. What has been almost completely ignored is the extent of the change that has taken place at the level of people’s everyday well-being.

“People’s resources and opportunities have improved with the increasing wealth and deregulation in Finnish society. Simultaneously, people’s everyday lives and living circumstances have changed rapidly. The combination of these factors has caused a transition in everyday well-being which is not yet widely understood,” says Timo Hämäläinen.

In practice, people’s improved resources mean better education and skills, better income and increased wealth, better physical health and better access to information. However, there are also signs of decline in some of the resources people have at their disposal.

“Differences in income and health are on the rise, as is the economic and social impact of mental health problems, while traditional social relationships have deteriorated and free time s a scarce commodity. A shortage of natural resources and increasing prices as well as the exacerbation of environmental problems create new kinds of difficulties for people’s everyday existence,” says Timo Hämäläinen.

Focus shift in needs hierarchy

Increasing wealth and the success of the welfare state lead to a heightened importance of new types of needs. As the majority of Finns have enough food on their table, satisfactory health and housing conditions and a good, safe living environment, the higher levels in the hierarchy of needs become crucial in everyday life. This means that love and belonging, esteem and self-actualisation become central to well-being.

“New economic research shows that in developed societies, after a certain point, economic growth ceases to improve people’s experience of well-being. That is why societies should take into account the transition that has occurred in people’s opportunities and everyday lives and stop to think how to best support people’s everyday well-being in developed societies. The higher levels in the hierarchy of needs take on a key role in people’s sense of well-being,” Hämäläinen says.

Social relationships and a sense of belonging have an important role amongst the higher-level needs. The nature of belonging is, however, undergoing change, as people are more in charge of deciding in which communities they choose to build their identities. At the same time, the increasing shortage of time takes its toll on important family and personal relationships. Emphasising the higher-level needs also decreases the role of material consumption in the experience of well-being, since it is not a very effective way of satisfying such needs in an affluent society. In fact, consumption shifts towards immaterial services in such societies.

“A marked deterioration has also taken place in people’s sense of security. Insecurity in everyday life has grown in the wake of the transitions in the global economy and society. Global threats, such as pandemics, terrorism and global warming are part and parcel of today’s life. At the same time, insecurity of jobs, lack of time and problems in personal relationships create obstacles or people’s ability to cope with their own lives,” Hämäläinen says.

A society of endless choices

The central goal of the Finnish welfare state has been to increase the resources available to its citizens, their opportunities and freedom. The goal has been achieved to a significant extent: Finns now have more of all these things than ever before.

The increase in opportunities and options has created a new situation, one aspect of which is that people are now forced to make choices. Everyday living is more dynamic and complicated than hitherto and succeeding at it requires a whole new set of skills. People who find it easy to adjust to this change may achieve an extremely high level of well-being, while it may create life-management problems for others, even to the extent where it threatens their personal well-being. These problems can also generate new kinds of social problems.

“Decisions people make regarding their own well-being are often short-sighted in today’s ethos of instant gratification. While short-sighted decisions may momentarily improve an individual’s well-being, they are inevitably counterproductive in the long run. Short-sightedness in relation to personal well-being may also cause social problems, if such an approach becomes sufficiently widespread. Society has, however, little power over people’s everyday choices. This will probably place an emphasis on the importance of people’s taking personal responsibility for their own well-being,” Hämäläinen says.

A vision of an affluent and competitive Finland

The transition that is currently taking place in society must be given a direction. For Finnish society to remain successful in future, it has to lie on a solid economic, social and ecological foundation. Creating such a society requires a common vision that encourages and inspires the various actors in society to reinvent themselves while supporting each other.

“In this vision, people’s experience of well-being in everyday life is made the single most important goal for social development. Economic competitiveness and the welfare state are restored to their role as instruments taking us towards this goal. Unsurpassable competence and infrastructure in creating well-being would offer companies operating in Finland a favourable operating environment for developing new products and services. This would give innovations developed in Finland superior added value on the international market. A Finland such as this would attract skilled foreign actors and investors,” Hämäläinen concludes.

Further information

Timo Hämäläinen
Research Director, Sitra
Tel. +358 50 502 4900
firstname.lastname@sitra.fi

Publication details

Kohti hyvinvoivaa ja kilpailukykyistä yhteiskuntaa – Kansallisen ennakointiverkoston näkemyksiä Suomen tulevaisuudesta (Towards a competitive welfare society – views of the National Foresight Network on Finland’s future)
Timo Hämäläinen
ISBN 951-563-530-6 (bound)
ISBN 951-563-531-4 (URL:http://www.sitra.fi)
Sitra, Helsinki 2006

You can order the report from Sitra, tel. +358 (9) 618 991, e-mail: publications@sitra.fi. The report (pdf, in Finnish) »

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