Advance Personal Well-Being

Each person in the community has the skills, resources, and social supports they need to pursue and live a healthy, safe, and fulfilling life.

Communities and regions do better as more and more local people – from newcomers to long-time residents – are in the position to pursue their aspirations; contribute to civic life, culture, and the economy; and realize their full potential. In any community, residents have varying knowledge, skills, and economic status, and striving families and individuals encounter life situations, policies, and behaviors that can either facilitate or impede them from thriving.

Community governance, leadership, and local organizations must work together to improve the well-being of all residents, especially those who lack sufficient housing, health, workforce preparation, transportation, safety, and other factors critical to well-being. This includes examining and removing all discriminatory barriers to personal and family advancement based on personal characteristics such as socio-economic class, gender, identity, race, country of origin, religion, or place of residence.


Evidence suggests this building block is important because our well-being is determined in part by economic, social, and environmental factors that shape our health,1,2 including in rural communities.3 Experts note that our well-being depends on our good health, positive social relationships, and availability and access to basic resources (e.g., shelter, income).4 Higher levels of well-being are associated with many benefits, such as lower risk of disease and speedier recovery when we are sick; longer life; higher productivity; and higher likelihood of contributing to our communities.4,5 Wealthy countries with greater well-being tend to have greater equality between population groups and fewer people living in deprivation.6 

Rural communities are unique in terms of geography, as well as experiences of wealth, income, and poverty; education and labor markets; and transportation.7 Historically, rural communities have been under-resourced in addressing many of these areas, which are important determinants of health.7 However, rural areas also have important assets, such as the natural environment.3 Research finds that living near natural outdoor environments (green and blue spaces) might help reduce stress, promote physical activity and social relationships and potentially improve human health and well-being.8,9 Rural areas may also have greater housing space, food security, and social capital compared to urban areas.3 Aspects of social capital, especially relationships with family and friends, are positively associated with mental well-being for older adults.10

Studies of people living in rural areas tell us more about what predicts well-being. For many rural individuals and communities, health and well-being have been greatly influenced by the “loss of land rights, natural resources and the distortion of physical environments coupled with histories of trauma and profound loss (related to “legacies of enslavement and forced assimilation”).7 Research shows that across urban, rural, and remote settings, racial discrimination affects health and wellbeing, with a strong and consistent link between experiencing racial discrimination and poor mental health and birth-related outcomes.11 Well-being is also linked to a sense of belonging (see also, A: Welcome All to the Community) in rural communities, including among immigrants12 and adults with disabilities who are receiving long-term services and supports.13 For adults with disabilities, inclusiveness, and accessibility of community spaces and activities contributes to fostering a sense of autonomy and self-determination.13

Rural policy frameworks call attention to the need for supports for well-being like technology and digital innovations, and considerations for building the skills and capacity of current residents, as well as ways to attract new residents.3 A policy response with a focus on raising living standards and reducing inequalities could advance well-being in rural areas.3 

  1. Healthy People 2030
  2. RHI Hub: Social Determinants
  3. OECD 2020
  4. CDC-Well-Being Concepts 2018
  5. Lyubomirsky 2005
  6. OECD-Better Life
  7. National Advisory Committee (NAC) on Rural Health and Human Services 2017
  8. Gascon 2017
  9. Houlden 2018
  10. Nyqvist 2012
  11. Priest 2013
  12. Caxaj 2017
  13. Thurman 2019

Curated Resources

African American man practicing with power band on exercise class in nature.
Pathways to Health Equity: Rural Wellbeing and Regional Assets

How the health equity and economic development fields intersect and can collaborate to bring prosperity to rural communities.

Medical practitioner walking patient through information
Weaving Health Equity and Rural Development by Strengthening Data and Evidence Infrastructure

Learnings, insights, and resources to better understand where progress is needed on weaving health equity and rural development and what wins we all can celebrate.

A Playbook for New Rural Healthcare Partnership Models of Investment with image of rural road
Rural Playbook

Playbook of rural hospitals pioneering creative partnerships with community development that pave the way for further investments in their communities.

Aspen Fesival Ideas Image
Reproductive Healthcare: An Intersectional Component of Healthy Rural Communities

Just like other momentous occasions in history, a likely topic of future conversations is “Where were you when the Supreme…

Biker biking through small town
Opportunity Makers: Melding Health and Equity in Rural Places

Nov. 10th, 2020, 3PM

POWERPOINT FOR ROADS 4 Hospitals and clinics are critical institutions in rural places not only because they provide essential healthcare…

team standing arm in arm in field
Creating A Force Multiplier – Why Advocates for Rural Health and Health Equity Should Work Together

Rural health disparities are well documented, as are racial and ethnic health disparities (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality 2020). Evidence suggests that we have made little progress in closing these gaps over time, and in some cases disparities have widened, in spite of numerous efforts and improved health and quality of care for everyone…

Research Brief
Community Strategies Group Thrive Rural, Rural Public Health and Health Care: A Scan of Field Practice and Trends, by University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute
Rural Public Health and Health Care: A Scan of Field Practice and Trends

This field scan is a contribution to Thrive Rural, specifically intended to provide an understanding of the state of relevant…

Field Items

Equitable Community Development Transforming neighborhoods to improve health and wellbeing.

Community development facilitates neighborhood change that enables residents to thrive. Resources from RWJF’s Culture of Health.

Stepping Up: Health Equity in Rural Hospitals Podcast Series

This podcast series brings together a variety of voices to elaborate on the steps rural hospitals can take to implement sustainable health equity programs and efforts.

How Maternity Care Deserts Put Black Moms at Risk

Being pregnant and Black is hard when you live in a rural community. Options are few, and racism makes everything worse.

Disability Compendium logo
Annual Disability Statistics Compendium

County-level data reports on disability statistics, including web-based tools that pool disability statistics published by various federal agencies together in one place.

Sectioned colorful graphic with headings Thriving Natural World, Basic Needs for Health & Safety, Humane Housing, Meaningful Work & Wealth, Lifelong Learning, Reliable Transportation, Belonging & Civic Muscle
Seven Vital Conditions for Health and Well-Being

The Seven Vital Conditions for Well-Being is a framework for conceptualizing holistic well-being and the conditions that give rise to it, as well as identifying levers for community change and improvement.

Cover of Youth and Adult Wellbeing report
Youth and Young Adult Wellbeing

A youth-led participatory action research project to define and measure wellbeing. Produced by the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions.

Collage of photos of rural America
Health, Work, and Care in Rural America

This report from New America notes that distances to hospital-based and skilled nursing care make paid leave critical for rural communities.

County median wage map of US
2023 County Health Rankings

County Health Rankings & Roadmaps (CHR&R) brings actionable data, evidence, guidance and stories to support community-led efforts to grow community…

Challenges and Opportunities by Type of Rural table
Rural Well-Being: Geographies of Opportunity

OECD’s framework reflects several important changes in rural development and the latest evidence-based analysis to improve understanding of the diverse and complex socio-economic systems that exist in rural places along with their connection to cities.

Black woman in sweater and black pants sits on tan couch
After a Brief Pandemic Reprieve, Rural Workers Return to Life Without Paid Leave

Article from The Daily Yonder on how rural workers are less likely to receive paid time off than their urban counterparts, making it harder to care for themselves or loved ones.

Garrett Country Community Action family wealth rubric
Crisis to Thriving Scale Worksheet

Worksheet based on the Garrett County Community Action Committee Whole Family Approach Life Scale

We see the framework as a living document, which necessarily must evolve over time, and we seek to expand the collective ownership of the Thrive Rural Framework among rural equity, opportunity, health, and prosperity ecosystem actors. Please share your insights with us about things the framework is missing or ways it should change.

Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group