Community Indicators for Your Community

Real, lasting community change is built around knowing where you are, where you want to be, and whether your efforts are making a difference. Indicators are a necessary ingredient for sustainable change. And the process of selecting community indicators -- who chooses, how they choose, what they choose -- is as important as the data you select.

This is an archive of thoughts I had about indicators and the community indicators movement. Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Happiness, Quality of Life, and What We Measure

We've been discussing happiness and economic prosperity and the different kinds of happiness and misery indicators we could be measuring. Now Newsweek explains why money doesn't buy happiness and sets up an interesting question for community indicators practitioners.

First of all, the research suggests that happiness buys money, but not the other way around.

The True Ancestor blog puts it this way:

... [In] Stumbling on Happiness, [Harvard psychologist Daniel] Gilbert notes that "wealth increases human happiness when it lifts people out of abject poverty and into the middle class but that it does little to increase happiness thereafter."

The Gross Domestic Product in the U.S. has nearly tripled since World War II, ... but people's sense of well-being has stayed virtually unchanged. Economic indicators turn out not to be such good predictors of happiness.

Interestingly, young people who are happy go on to earn more throughout their lives than do their unhappier counterparts. No chicken-and-the-egg conundrum here: the chicken that is happiness lays the golden egg that is economic well-being.

With the upcoming international forum on gross national happiness coming up, the question of why we're measuring what we're measuring is an interesting one. Legendary indicators guru David Swain frames the issue this way:

What intrigues me the most about the comparison of QOL [Quality of Life] and GNH [Gross National Happiness] concepts of measuring is the difference in the understanding of “happiness.” As I’m coming to understand it, in Western QOL thinking, from a community/national perspective, happiness is concerned with matters “external” to the human mind/spirit. Business oriented marketing/happiness measurement is concerned primarily with material goods and services, what people want and will buy. Community oriented quality of life issues are concerned with what groups of people can do collectively to improve the external environment, excluding “internal” issues such as faith and spirituality. Again, as I’m coming to understand, Eastern, specifically Buddhist GNH thinking makes no such distinction between external and internal, between material and spiritual. So, measures of happiness are defined quite differently.

Many, if not all, of our community indicators reports measure economic indicators. Sustainability efforts describe the intersection of people, place and prosperity (or economy, environment and equity or whatever the latest alliterative formulation might be with a Venn diagram thrown in). But while we keep getting more and more creative in our development of measurements of the external environments, few (if any) community-level indicators reports seek to measure happiness.

Is that by design, or oversight? How would you respond?

1 comment:

  1. Albert Schweitzer:

    Happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory.Nice Comment!