‘Most of the days is really, really good’: narratives of well-being and happiness among asylum seekers and refugees in the UK and the Gambia
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date08/07/2020
Wenning, Brianne Natasha
This thesis demonstrates resilience and the ability to enjoy life despite hardships. While most studies of refugees and asylum seekers focus on issues of trauma and ill-health, this thesis attends to both positive and negative experiences that people experience due to a forced migration. Drawing on forty interviews as well as ethnographic observations, this thesis uses narrative and ethnographic methods to investigate the most salient factors contributing to well-being and happiness among African refugees and asylum seekers in two different urban environments: Newcastle-upon- Tyne in the UK and the greater Banjul area in the Gambia. I argue that through the stories these people told me about their lives, well-being and happiness can be subsumed under three main themes. The first theme of growth and meaning is one that features prominently in post-flight narratives. I show how people make sense of their lives and turn the negative experience of flight into something positive, meaningful and purposeful by using the concepts of posttraumatic growth and sense of coherence. The second theme of relational well-being is used to highlight the ambivalent role that various social relationships – families, friends and the wider community – have on an individual’s happiness. The third theme is temporal well-being. Specifically, I compare the two groups to explicate how perceptions of the passage of time in the present affect well-being and what the implications of an imagined future are for present happiness. Finally, I show how religion links these three themes together. This research primarily contributes to well-being and happiness studies where anthropology is underrepresented and to migration and refugee studies where it brings an ethnographic and narrative approach. Its interdisciplinary nature, and particularly the emphasis on qualitative methodologies, complements research in social psychology and sociology whose approaches to happiness and well-being tend to emphasise quantitative methods. This emphasis on quantitative methods risks missing the context and nuance that qualitative research adds. I argue that it is not only the methods which make the contribution of this research valuable, but also the multi-sited and comparative nature of it which offer unique insights in how diverse individuals strive for well-being and a good, happy life.