Having, loving and being: Wellbeing of migrant youth

Social marginalisation is an alarming aspect of the increasing migrant youth population in Europe. Even if these young people learn the local language, gain a basic education and find employment, they may not feel well enough to truly participate in their host society. A challenge even in one dimension of wellbeing can increase the risk of social marginalisation. According to the sociologist Erik Allardt (1976), ‘having’, ‘loving’ and ‘being’ are the key components of human wellbeing.

For wellbeing, one needs to have for example appropriate housing, sufficient income and satisfactory health (‘having’). One also needs loving relationships and a feeling of belonging to a community (‘loving’). Furthermore, one should be able to influence one’s life and to make a difference in relationships or the surrounding community (‘being’). In practice, these dimensions are intertwined. For example, appropriate housing is closely related to having a community to belong to. (Allardt 1976.)

My research interest lies in the category of ‘being’ and its aspect of ‘self-actualisation’, which is rarely discussed. By self-actualisation, Allardt (1976) refers to the fact that each individual longs for the subjective experiences of being treated as a unique person, getting respect from others and fulfilling oneself for instance through hobbies and spare-time activities. He also claims that one should to have an opportunity to participate politically. In other words, self-actualisation is about the possibility to express one’s individual characteristics, creative abilities and personal opinions through a variety of actions.

In my current research project, Young People in the Limelight (YPAM), I study how the wellbeing and social inclusion of vulnerable young people, such as migrant youth, can be supported by artistic media production in youth work. This has a link to the TRUST project, which also explores innovative and caring ways to enhance the wellbeing of migrant youth, particularly unaccompanied minors. The YPAM art and media workshops were implemented by several researchers acting in diverse youth institutions, such as non-governmental organisations, municipal youth centres and a refugee centre for unaccompanied asylum-seeking boys. The participants were mainly 15 to 20-year-old young people (altogether close to 100 people). In the workshops, the youth were encouraged to create art and media content, such as journalistic writings, poetry, photographs, and videos. Most of the creative tasks had loose frames and plenty of possibilities for self-actualisation (e.g. create a meme, write a fairy tale, photograph something people do not usually see). Some tasks were done individually and others with peers. The youth were also given a chance to publish their artwork and media content in social media (e.g. Instagram) and in mainstream media or public spaces (e.g. in a youth magazine, an exhibition).

Based on the results of YPAM, the wellbeing of vulnerable youth was enhanced through producing art and media together with peers and publishing it. The young people needed to feel competent for instance through mastering a technique or creating a unique work of art (e.g. photograph, video, novel). Many of them also felt contentment when being able to have a say about social problems or even global issues (e.g. racism, poverty, wars, climate change). In addition, the creation of media content gave them a chance to explore their strengths and weaknesses. Getting positive feedback from peers and adults they trusted was important in creating or strengthening their experience of competence. Through showing their competence, they had a chance to gain respect from others as individuals. Publishing the creative work in art exhibitions, magazines and social media turned out to be particularly important, as the youth interpreted the act of publishing as a sign of adults’ appreciation and their own competence. The experience of competence, in turn, seemed to build their self-confidence, create an anticipation of pleasant things to come, and increase their willingness to work with others and take part in future projects.


Allardt, E. (1976) Hyvinvoinnin ulottuvuuksia. [Dimensions of Wellbeing]. Porvoo: WSOY.


Creative writing workshop in Vantaa