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 Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Valuing Melancholia

We've been talking about measuring happiness for quite a while -- from global conferences on happiness to measuring prosperity and well-being. A new book, Against Happiness, appears to challenge the movement to measure happiness in interesting ways.

Railing against the psychology of positive thinking, the "science of happiness," the author says:

What are we to make of this American obsession with happiness, an obsession that could well lead to a sudden extinction of the creative impulse, that could result in an extermination as horrible as those foreshadowed by global warming and environmental crisis and nuclear proliferation? What drives this rage for complacency, for the innocuous smile? What fosters this desperate contentment?

The argument is that sadness, suffering, melancholy, whatever you name the non-happy, non-complacent times in our lives, is where we find meaning, creative impulses, strength, poetry, and more. If happiness is our goal, chemical shortcuts can get us there quickly, to our ultimate detriment.

In an essay titled "Please Don't Have a Nice Day," printed in the Wall Street Journal, Colin McGinn says:

What about the stronger thesis -- that misery can still have value even when it leads to deeper misery, so long as wisdom is the outcome? A more convincing argument against happiness might defend the view that knowledge of the true condition of the universe, and of our place in it, necessarily gnaws at the heart and that such gnawing is good in itself.

What do you think? Are we inadvertently denying the human spirit when we measure happiness indicators and encourage public policy that reinforces happiness? Is the New Economic Foundation's Happy Planet Index as destructive as the climate change it hopes to solve? What do you make of the argument that promoting a misery index might be a good thing?


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