What do we value? How do we measure success or failure in our lives? It seems we all too often judge each other and ourselves by what we have achieved in a material sense – how much have we got? Too few look at the entirety of our lives and our contributions to our society, we’re often too busy working out what’s in it for us. So what is in it for us? Do we really have to keep up with ‘The Jones’s’? How are the Jones’s going?
It turns out that when your household income hits around $100,000 for the year this is the high point of your happiness with your riches that is very unlikely to be exceeded in your life no matter how much money you have. It seems there is always someone with a bigger boat, a hotter partner, a smarter kid, newer device, better hair and a fatter wallet. So what do we do now? Our entire system screams out for more growth but what does it really deliver?
What is important to us? We love to measure and compare so we can say that we are – not as bad as, as sad as, as poor as, as thin as, as fat as, as lucky as… how do you measure your own success? Do you have to win to be a success? A friend recently put their home on the market and had the estate agent come over for an initial chat. The agent looked the house over and was fairly neutral in their assessment. The agent asked my friend to talk about the special things about the house that may add to the value of the property. My friend spoke of the day her first child was born and bringing it back home. She spoke of the day her father celebrated his 80th birthday in the garden, the day her child turned 18 and the day their dog died and how they had buried it in the front garden. The gent quickly got up and suggested that she find another agent.
There was a clear disconnect between what the agent valued in a house and what my friend valued in her home. So when we set about to measure what is important to us we fail to include those things that really matter to us. As we love to measure everything we do what is the best way to measure our inputs and outputs? What really matters to us and how do we measure? The central Asian Kingdom of Bhutan measures ‘Gross National Happiness’ as their measure – and in a surprise to some the sky hasn’t fallen in just yet.
Our government uses Gross Domestic Product as its measure.
Robert Kennedy, the late US senator from Massachusetts, put it like this in 1968 when talking to students at the University of Kansas as he described what Gross Domestic Product means and more importantly what it does not mean/
“Too much and too long, we seem to surrendered community excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our gross domestic product … if we should judge America by that – counts air pollution and advertising for cigarettes and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and jails for the people who break them.
“It counts the destruction of our forests and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and the cost of a nuclear warhead, and armoured cars for police who fight riots in our streets. It counts rifles and knives and the television programs, which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.
“Yet the Gross Domestic Product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It is indifferent to the decency of our factories and the safety of our streets alike. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate nor the integrity of our public officials.
“It measures neither wit nor courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it tells us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.”
Hmmmm. Nice one RFK.
We’ve become so good at pursuing higher incomes and greater growth that we do it for its own sake, without ever considering the non-material quality of our lives. In our race to keep up with the Jones’s, we’ve lost sight of what makes us happy.
Jason Kimberley – Founder and CEO Cool Australia