Quality of Life – What the hell is that?


So, as I engage in producing the 2013 Quality of Life report for the Comox Valley Social Planning Society I’m struck with the number of questions I have about just what quality of life means. I’ve determined that it’s not about comfort or serenity, the lack of problems or adversity, happiness or the lack of it, wealth, health, recreation, culture, fast cars, sex, food or much of anything else.  It’s not even only about personal, individual feelings and circumstances. So what is it about?  There are a number of organizations that have produced quality of life indices and reports.  The UN is into it: (http://hdr.undp.org/en/statistics/).  The Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW)(https://uwaterloo.ca/canadian-index-wellbeing/) has determined that the quality of life in Canada is declining regardless of the fact that the Gross Domestic Product may be rising.  We are obviously into contiua here.  The UN rates countries on a continuum of quality of life using a large number of indicators in three categories, heath, education and living standards.  The CIW uses dozens of indicators and eight domains or categories: community vitality, demographic engagement, education, environment, healthy populations, leisure and culture, living standards and time use.  Some of these domains address individual dimensions of wellbeing, others how community affects personal wellbeing.  The CIW is on to something here, I find.  On a continuum of wretchedness to bliss, I expect that a person living on the streets of Kolkata would be at the wretchedness end of the scale while someone living in a fancy house on the beach in Comox would be on the other (blissful) end without being too categorical about it. However, the world is never as simple as it seems and I’m not a good judge of the quality of life of a person living on the streets anywhere, especially India. 

To me, some self-determination is important in thinking about quality of life as is sociality.  So, for me, life in a prison isolation cell would qualify as extremely wretched even though health, sanitation and food would not necessarily be issues.  And there are tradeoffs.  Idleness due to unemployment may adversely affect income, but there is a certain liberation in not having to go to work.  Problem is, we have developed strong moral, legal and political objections to unemployment to the point where the unemployed are considered morally weak, self-indulgent, lazy and worse.  So not working (for the employable) carries a stigma and the unemployed suffer opprobrium.  

I suppose, for me, quality of life hinges on a number of factors including basic health, a roof over my head, access to effective sanitation, enough money to keep food on the table, clothes on my back and maybe go out the odd evening to a movie, a day in the park or on the beach, a visit to a library or an art gallery, having friends over for tea, being able to move about without too much difficulty, and community support when things go sideways.  Emergency services, then, take on more importance than they might otherwise in determining quality of life.  The question is, can I count on the help of others in the community if I get sick, lose my source of income, my house burns down, I get beat up on the street or bullied at work?  

Of course, comparison is the foundation of quality of life studies and indices.  How do I measure my wellbeing?  Well, it will be good or bad in comparison to the person next to me or in the next town, city, province or country.  If I have nothing to compare my life to others, the whole question of quality of life is meaningless.  As for the Comox Valley, what makes this place unique in terms of quality of life?  I’m not sure there is a basis for comparison with other similar sized communities on Vancouver Island.  

These are just some of the thoughts I’ve been having recently on the subject of quality of life. There’s lots more…for later.

6 thoughts on “Quality of Life – What the hell is that?

  1. Roger, when you refer to “community” here, do you mean your circle of friends in Cumberland, the citizens of Cumberland as a whole, or the government services in BC? Does “community” include “family” members? That is your blood relatives? I am just wondering how general your use of this term is in this article.
    One of the difficulties of turning to government agencies or community service organizations during time of need is that some types of help are completely absent. As a case in point, a neighbour in this building is wheelchair bound due to a motorcycle accident years ago. He is now 61 years ago and I was talking with him in the lobby today and he told me that he has to give his notice, as the rent keeps going up every year and he has been using his savings up to meet his basic expenses. I asked him if he was on S.A.F.E.R. for people 60 and older. He said, “You have to be 65.” I said, “no, that is not correct. I am on S.A.F.E.R. and have been since age 60.” Then he told me he was actually in social services disability, not CPP disability. He also has his CPP from when he was working. He said the rest is over $700 a month for his one-bedroom suite and he only has an income of $950 a month. He said he has phoned every place he can think of for assistance and no service club can help him. He said he doesn’t quality for S.A.F.E.R. rental assistance, because he receiving BC income assistance and if he gets S.A.F.E.R. (from the BC govt.) his income assistance will be reduced.
    So, he’s a guy with very little “quality of life” and he may even loose the roof over his head and he is wheelchair bound for life. He has no one he feels he can move in with, but he has not yet given up hope.
    How can a person in a wheelchair for life, not quality for CPP disability and not qualify for S.A.F.E.R.? This fellow could be withholding information in his conversation with me, but I tend to believe him. Were it not for mom buying a mobile home for my sister, she would be in the same position. As it is, she is having difficulty on her disability pension from the Alberta Govt. She would go to her MLA though. I might suggest that my neighbour do the same. No wonder people “go to the media.”

    1. Hi Marilyn,
      By community I mean people close to you and connected by family ties, friendship or other means and who can be counted on for support if necessary. In Cumberland I include my Village council and lots of people in businesses and other services. But I also include people further afield. I don’t include all my family members. Our communities ‘should’ include governments, local and otherwise that are supposed to provide collective services like roads, sanitation, etc., and social services in times of need. There are lots of services out there, but people don’t always know what’s out there and how to access services. Your neighbour may have fallen through the cracks. There is an organization in town that is all about advocacy and helping people like him. I can’t remember at the moment the name of the organization but I’ll find it and pass it on to you.

    1. What kind of work did he previously do? Has he gone to the Job Shop? At 61 in a wheelchair he will be quite limited in the work he will be able to do, but there may be something out there.

  2. Yes. I will ask him if I get time. Right now, I’m up to my ears in my own responsibilities. He is an acquaintance, so don’t want to be too pushy. I did give him a compassionate ear at least.

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