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.