The experiences and worldviews gathered during this research were analysed into themes that reflect coalesced narratives that focused on the balance between the various theme that contributed to wellbeing. These themes were: wellbeing, whānau (wider family), whanaungatanga (social connectedness), taha hinengaro (mental and emotional wellbeing), taha tinana (physical wellbeing) and wairua (spirituality). The findings are presented as separate themes, but the concepts within the themes are indivisible and interlinked. Instead, the concepts described in the findings examine the various facets that encapsulate and provide the basis for wellbeing for Māori pakeke.
The use of ‘balance’ was common across participants’ wellbeing narratives. Balance was used to refer to the simultaneous and holistic presence of elements that underpin the individual’s engagement with life, no matter what challenges the individual might be facing.
I find that if I’m not training physically, my mind doesn’t work properly. There’s an imbalance there … I find that if in my own personal space, if I’ve got a balance around physical and mental activity, I can pretty much deal with most things or anything, really. It’s not gonna trip me up… in general, I find that if my whānau are fine, if there’s a problem in the whānau, if I’m still working on the physical and the mental wellbeing consistently, then I find it’s easier to deal with. (Tāne)
Importantly, these elements were embedded within an overarching discourse of the individual’s positioning and responsibilities across time; this can be appreciated in that the self was commonly referred to in deference to one’s tīpuna (ancestors) whilst simultaneously viewing the individual’s responsibility to prepare a pathway for following generations. These time-related positionings acknowledged Ha Taonga Tukuiho, the individual, as a treasure that has been passed down. As such, wellbeing discussions were commonly framed in consideration of past generations and a sense of responsibility for the next. Being mindful of past and future generations, framed the individual as kaitiaki (guardians), with an obligation to honour those who have gone before while preparing future generations; a positioning that provided a deep sense of purpose.
I reflect upon tīpuna, who really struggled for this life, and it helps me to motivate my own wellbeing… I think that there’s a purpose. That there’s a purpose that we’re gifted this [life]. And it’s how you look after the vessel, so that you can do the longevity. [It is} kaitiakitanga [stewardship]. It’s innate, really. Because that’s the worldview that I’ve been brought up in. (Wāhine)
Wellbeing was attributed to the holistic interconnection of whānau, whanaungatanga, hinengaro, taha tinana and wairua. Each element was interwoven throughout participant narratives.
Whānau (wider family)
Participants placed considerable emphasis on whānau as an integral component of wellbeing. On one level, the importance of whānau was raised as the basis of individual identity. As such, participants expended considerable energy assisting whānau attain the highest degree of fulfilment, the attainment of which provided a foundation to the individual’s wellbeing. The importance of whānau wellbeing was discussed in relation to balance whereby whānau wellbeing acted as a foundation to other aspects of the individual’s life. In this sense, challenges within the whānau were discussed as negatively impacting the individual’s wellbeing.
I think, most importantly, is that there’s an ambience of calm and tranquillity within the whānau. I think if you see your children, being adult or whatever, achieving, there’s less stress on you … The most important part is that if your own backyard is tranquil and everything is running smoothly, that transfers itself into the other domains that you go into, like work or whatever. That’s what I see as being the centre of things. (Tāne)
Linked to the centrality of whānau, considerable joy was described from being able to observe whānau thrive and watching the younger generations grow.
I think the other thing is that if you’ve experienced love. It’s something that continues to assist you to thrive even further. I’m talking about the love of meeting someone who’s your soulmate and the love of watching your next-generation growing … I’m talking about your moko [grandchildren] and seeing those same things that you felt at your own parents, and your grandparents suddenly start manifesting themselves in your mokopuna [grandchildren]. I love that. (Tāne)
I find my mokopuna (grandchildren) as being my motivators… the little people that keep your childlike voice alive. (Wāhine)
Roles associated with older adulthood facilitated the position of nurturer and observer. For instance, one participant described how his role had changed from that of a more authoritarian leader, as one attempting to enforce whānau compliance, to one of a connector. Embedded within this role change is one of ‘nurturer’, whereby the individual is better positioned to enjoy watching whānau develop.
I must admit, I was a bit of a bully in my family when I was younger, but now I’m the connector across my siblings and cousins … That’s another place where I get my source of inspiration from. (Tāne)
In addition to mokopuna, adult whānau members were referred to as a primary element of wellbeing, providing a sense of connectedness and unconditional love.
Usually, about once every two/three months, we’ll all meet at me brother’s. We’ll stay up all night and we’ll just talk about silly things. I love that. We’re all together, laughing about the stupid things we did as kids … It’s like I’m connected to someone. I love someone and they love me unconditionally … That’s powerful. It is. We’ve always been close. We did some funny things. (Tāne)
Okay. I definitely need my family. Yeah, I can’t imagine what I would be like if I didn’t have a family to connect to, or if I didn’t have a connection to my family on that -- I just couldn’t imagine what that would be. (Wāhine)
The importance of whānau, and especially older whānau members, was noted as providing an affirmation of tikanga (that which is right); affirming manaakitanga (the process of showing respect, generosity and care for others) and the application of kaitiakitanga (stewardship), whilst sustaining whakapapa (future generations).
They’re reminders of tīpuna for me. Looking at them, listening to them. They affirm a lot of my thinking around how we look after each other, how we apply tikanga in our processes, how we apply the tikanga of the manaakitanga, how we apply kaitiakitanga; how we retain and sustain whakapapa. So, they’re the affirmation for me in regards to the people that I find life-giving for me. Whakapapa - and my family, etc., are really good, there’s also good friends and colleagues, and particular ones that you rely on the most. Where you’ve got lots of commonalities. It’s also good to have those you don’t have things in common with, Essentially those would be what those people look like. (Wāhine)
Whānau discussions were also underscored as a vital investment in the future. Rather than focusing on material wealth, emphasis was placed on investing in whānau. Such investment-related discourse is founded on a principle of reciprocity, where the younger generation assists older members.
I have this crazy view that I’m going to put all my investment in maintaining good healthy relationships with my whānau instead of putting it in the bank. When we die, the investment is, if I’ve looked after the healthy relationships in our whānau, they’ll be looking after me. Very much like my partner and I looked after her father. Just like we looked after my parents… You should be investing in your loved ones around you. (Tāne)
Whanaungatanga (social connectedness)
Social connectedness was discussed on three levels. On a basic level, social connectedness was described as necessary because of a belief that a lack of connectedness can be detrimental to the individual’s wellbeing. In this sense, social connectedness was furthered as a means of extending one’s self – exposing the individual to new people, ideas and experiences. Connectedness was also framed within a combative discourse, acknowledging that isolation can have detrimental effects.
Don’t live an isolated life. Socialise. Socialising brings other things into your life. It brings information, it brings new friendships. You meet people that you wouldn’t normally associate with. All of those things, combined, I see as being imperative. (Tāne)
Next, social connectedness was discussed as a means of support: the existence of a social network providing support in time of need or crisis.
You’ve got all the support there. All the supports there can help you through whatever you’re going through. It’s like mental health. Don’t be scared to ask for help. (Tāne)
I revolve around a family, there’s a negative thing about being involved in a whānau is that you have a lot of tangi [funerals]. There’s a lot more issues to deal with. But the plus side of it is there’s more of an instant support network there too. There’s people that you value and they value you. It’s a good stocktake. I have some mates that I keep in touch with, even today, but in my family, I also have seen things that have emerged between the generations. The younger generations, who are now parents themselves, doing very similar things to what me and my brothers were doing, are now starting to enter that fray of moving out of just looking after your own family network. (Tāne)
At a deeper level, wider social connectedness provided participants with an opportunity to express manaakitanga, or the process of showing generosity and care for others. Similar to a sense of joy and fulfilment, participants described watching their whānau thrive, and this communicated a similar sense of satisfaction from helping others. Manaakitanga was referenced both tamariki (children) and adults. Importantly, the sense of fulfilment cannot be separated from other wellbeing elements of wairua, taha hinengaro and taha tinana.
The whanaungatanga that’s here [marae]. Interacting with children, helping them with gardens or helping them do projects. You can always be busy here, and that’s why I love it, cos the mental part helps the physical … I’m in the moment with them, and all this is there. I’m in the moment with them and I’m enjoying it mentally. The physical [physical impairment] parts are nothing. That physical thing’s [physical impairment] gone because you’re on a wairua level with them. You’re all one. That’s powerful. I love it. The look on their faces, and adults helping them. All that comes into it. There’s nothing like it. (Tāne)
Helping others get to that place of like they’re thriving… my day job is working with people affected by addiction, whether they’re the whānau or they’re the consumer, so it’s working alongside people that are trying to cope with drugs in their lives, form new relationships or help them repair broken relationship with whānau. It’s always a positive - it’s always good for me when you see them getting somewhere… I think something about this sort of work, it’s kinda like soul food. It makes you feel good when you finally see one of your clients leave and they’re leaving in a much better place. (Wāhine)
Taha Hinengaro (Mental and emotional wellbeing)
The importance of having a sense of purpose was common across narratives and was framed as contributing to an individual’s life engagement and overall happiness. Purpose was inextricably linked to having a sense of being valued through the individual’s ability to contribute in a meaningful way.
For me, it’s having a sense of doing something that’s worthwhile… And I think I thrive off that … So that sort of sense of being of value, I suppose. (Wāhine)
Hinengaro was also reflected in the importance of maintaining a sense of ‘peace and harmony’. While harmony was discussed as being reliant on other wellbeing elements being in balance, considerable emphasis was placed on the importance of the one’s attitude and ways of perceiving life events to avoid internalising stressors.
With increasing life experience, participants described having learnt how to cope with significant life events and stressors such as the death of loved ones. Instead, the importance of maintaining peace and harmony concentrated on more minor stressors that have a cumulative eroding impact.
For me, the major things were real huge. You can handle them, cos everyone has them. You get a disaster and that, they’ll knuckle down and they brace themselves. What fucks people is everyday life. It’s just that little bit of chippin’ away, chippin’ away, chippin’ away and then one day they’ll lose the plot and everyone’s going, whoa, where did that come from? (Tāne)
Across participants, everyday stressors generally took the form of negative encounters with people. As such, overt negative-avoidance strategies were employed, such as removing oneself from situations or people deemed as negative. Simultaneously, clear boundaries were communicated about interpersonal relationships and the importance of not being around those considered unfavourable.
No negativity. If there’s negativity, I’ll just walk out … Because I don’t like negativity. I can see it, but if I can avoid it, I will… (Tāne).
Peace and harmony [are important to me]. I don’t like arguments. Cos I’ve seen a lot of people destroyed by anger and alcohol-related stuff and all that. Drugs and all that. That’s just not me. (Tāne)
Seniority in the workplace or the independence that stems from retirement facilitated the individual’s freedom to disengage from negative situations and people. Others described a shift in perspective towards conflict as an outcome of maturation. Such shifts resulted in reduced anxiety, anger and stress. Cape Reinga was referenced as a metaphor for conflict, drawing on the imagery of the turmoil arising from the clash of the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean. With maturation, the participant described shifting from being embroiled in the turmoil to adopting a lighthouse perspective.
But where I got my peace from there – where it felt like a thriving space – just being there at papaki tu ana nga tai ki te Reinga - the crashing of the waves. When you go out to Cape Reinga and you see where the two oceans meet. I was right down the midst of where the waves were crashing. Then, suddenly, it seemed like overnight, it flipped. That’s probably one of the reasons why I left [the university]. I suddenly found myself up where the lighthouse was and looked at the wider expanses of what was occurring. (Tāne)
Notably, life events, such as sudden acute illnesses, played a substantive role in facilitating a reprioritisation process for many participants, resulting in a cognitive shift and a need to place the self and whānau as the priority over career and other activities that led to what one participant referred to as ‘contestations’. Such shifts are significant in that participants generally welcomed supportive roles but tended to be wary of positions that could result in stress arising from conflict.
I’m amazed now at how I can just sit back and not have to take the front seat. But at the same time, I’ve got [a] valuable voice … my vision’s shifted now. When you’re in the fray and building a family and building your career and your credibility in the workspace and building your expertise in sport … But then, suddenly, when you have an event or events or life changes, these matter very little to me. (Tāne)
In addition to attitudinal shifts in how to perceive stressors, participants described maintaining peace and harmony through ‘alone time’. The need for alone time can be appreciated in that all participants reported being heavily involved in either paid or unpaid work as well as a host of whānau and community commitments and responsibilities.
Sometimes you need to think about yourself and you need to give yourself a little love, at the end of the day you become an empty shell. Cos you’re giving it out to everybody, but then you leave yourself out. So, for me, learn to love yourself. It doesn’t mean you gotta be arrogant about it. It’s to be humble. (Wāhine)
‘Alone time’ was strongly linked to wairua (spirituality) and was reflected in reliance on nature, returning to one’s Turangawaewae (a place of belonging through whakapapa). The physical world was described as especially important in combating sadness, stress or simply as a form of communion.
If you get really caught up or you’re feeling like you’re a little bit stressed or something. I find a weekend at home [Turangawaewae] just brings me straight back to where I should be. The sea’s a big part of it for us, we come from the sea. There’s something about a tranquillity that comes from just sitting on the beach and breathing in the air and listening to the waves and just watching the beauty that is the ocean. (Tāne)
In other situations, peaceful engagement was achieved through lone activities such as reading, puzzles, riding one’s motorcycle and, in one case, playing the pokies.
If you keep giving out love, like you give out love to your brothers, sisters, cousins and friends- at the end of the day, do you ever think about yourself? You’re in the same picture. You’re not out of it. You need to think about you, which I do quite a bit. (Wāhine)
I always take time for myself, not much on most days, and I do Wordscape … I read a lot … I ride my bike… I might ride with others but I’m on my own and I’m thinking … Because I’m always around people. So, finding that time just to drift into the world - where I just get my mind to just relax. I enjoy it. (Wāhine)
Markedly, the maintenance of peace and harmony was facilitated by a sense of increased resilience, learnt from overcoming adversity throughout participants’ lives. In this vein, attitudes towards adversity were discussed as a mechanism of resilience. Notably, attitude was discussed as a protective factor to maintaining one’s wellbeing and was linked to the co-occurrence of whānau and wider support.
From my family upbringing, it was like, “You’ve got a choice here, you either wallow in it, or it is what it is, and you need to get on.“ Things did happen, and yes they were sad and tragic, but you had some choices as to how you dealt with that [with the death of my partner]. So, I suppose I drew on that strength, that okay this has happened, I’ve got some choices here, I could fall apart or I could just get on. (Wāhine)
Finally, mental wellbeing was discussed in terms of the importance of being mentally active. Axioms such as ‘use it or lose it’ were enlisted to reflect a combative discourse of resisting anticipated decline.
I think mental wise, to me if you’ve got your brains active and that, less chance of atrophying. (Tāne)
Taha Tinana (physical wellbeing)
Physical wellbeing was commonly linked to nutrition, physical exercise and the need for regular health checks. While some participants stated that physical activity had featured prominently throughout their lives, the need for physical exercise and improved diets had arisen as a result of an acute health episode or the diagnosis of a chronic condition. Similarly, the need for regular health assessments had been informed by the individual’s own health episodes or as an outcome of vicarious learning. Importantly, physical activity was described as a central element of individual wellbeing as activity alleviated many of the presenting symptoms, as insufficient activity resulted in impeded mobility.
Some days I’m in chronic pain, but I try and walk it off. Keep moving. I can move my arm and all that, but it’s that pain. Even pills, I’m not a very pill popper. I get told off by my doctor all the time, cos I don’t take my pills, blood thinners and all that. (Tāne)
On a deeper level, participants discussed engaging in physical activity as inactivity was viewed as a precursor to an early demise, a position similar to a combative discourse of fighting anticipated mental decline.
I think it’s the fear of, if I don’t do nothing, that’s it - check out time. You’ve gotta keep going. (Tāne)
Wairua was often used to describe spiritual connections and meanings arising from connections to or simply being one with the environment. As such, wairua is inextricable from the various wellbeing elements of whānau, whanaungatanga, tinana and hinengaro. While interwoven throughout the elements, wairua was discussed as an essential element of wellbeing in itself. Wairua was a sense of grounding the individual holds in having a purpose.
My faith has been another very strong space. The faith, and also the cultural values. Those have really worked in harmony for me. Because I value the fact that we’re here for a reason. It’s just not something that’s been put together by the drop of two atoms. That’s how I see the world. I’ve had too many of my loved ones pass away to even contemplate the fact that I’ll never see them again. (Tāne)
Groundedness or having a sense of foundation was commonly referenced.
I need to have a sense of feeling my feet underneath me. That means, you know, if I’m able to walk I can jog. If I can jog, I can climb. If I can climb, I can do my mahi [work]. The sense of knowing that I’ve got my feet under me, and I’ve got my head screwed on. (Tāne)
On a daily basis, wairua connections manifested through prayer and reflection, setting daily intentions, reflecting on the individual’s position and relying on wairua for protection. Importantly, it is not possible to compartmentalise wairua. In some instances, wairua reflected western conceptualisations of prayer, whereas, in other situations, wairua was discussed in relation to one’s tīpuna (ancestors) or simply being one with nature.
It may sound silly, but before I go to sleep, I say, ‘Thank you house, but don’t let anyone in here that shouldn’t be here.‘ Cos the house is covering me. Those are the things I think about, is where I’m at and making sure that I’m alright, and the house don’t get burnt down while I sleep. I think it’s the spiritual aspects of us as a Māori … I look at those things. (Wāhine)
I’m an avid reflector. Processes like starting a day, finishing a day, being close to nature in other ways, not just for physical exercise, but like watching things grow. Being in the garden. I’ve also done those things. I’ve enjoyed looking after my home. I think the second part inside that is that I also get solace in my soul. Not just through religious reverence and things like that, but also the quiet moments. (Tāne)