Health and happiness go hand in hand. You can’t be truly healthy unless you’re truly happy. But happiness may mean different things to different people. Still, measuring systems have been devised that can help you understand your happiness quotient and how to improve it.
Many have wondered if quality of life can truly be measured. After all, isn’t what one perceives as a high-quality life only a subjective perspective on how happy or fulfilled you feel? On the contrary. While subjective in theory, the basic elements that create an increased human quality of life are objectively shared around the globe. In fact, various scales are now used to assess quality of life (QoL) internationally, and two rating systems in particular offer insight into these quality of life issues: the Happy Planet Index and the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Quality-of-Life Index.
The QoL Scales
The Happy Planet Index is unique among QoL assessments. It measures human well-being in the context of ecological efficiency, combining life expectancy with life satisfaction to determine a “happy life years” rating. In other words, it measures not only life expectancy but how happy we are while alive.
The Economist Intelligence Unit Quality-of-Life Index combines life-satisfaction surveys with global objective determinants of QoL. The strength of this measure derives from its use of objective Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per person (material well-being) as a base upon which to correlate subjective satisfaction measurements. In an attempt to be comprehensive, this Index uses nine factors to determine QoL ratings: material well-being, health, political stability and security, family life, community life, climate and geography, job security, political freedom, and gender equality.
These two indexes offer valuable food for thought. They inspire us to ask: How often do we think about the actual quality of our health, let alone how happy and secure we feel?
While these indexes are a good beginning for a self-evaluation, they have shortcomings.
Unfortunately, the Happy Planet Index doesn’t seem to focus on hard health statistics. That makes it difficult to assess precisely where you can make changes to various parts of your life to improve your overall health and lengthen your life span and quality of lived life. The Economist Index falls short for a different reason: Its categories of measurement are far too narrow. For example, its family life measurement is based solely on divorce rates per population; it neglects to take into account whether a family is actually supportive or loving.
Using information from these two assessments and other resources, we can compare the relative QoL in the United States (a First World economy) to China (an emerging economic power). If you think the United States rates high in the world just because it spends outrageously on healthcare and luxury, think again. The United States actually ranks 13th worldwide in terms of QoL; China is at 60th. While both countries experience similar life expectancies and leading causes of death, other factors besides death rate, years lived and disease account for life quality. This is important for us as individuals, as we strive to improve our own health and quality of life.
Abraham Maslow put forth the idea that until certain basic needs are met, you cannot truly excel or actualize your potential. These include: psychological, safety, social, esteem and self-actualization needs.
To help us understand and rate our own life quality, we should use Maslow’s basic needs as the foundation for measurement. You can do this by looking both objectively (at what is being provided on local and national scales) and subjectively (at what each person feels they need in order to fulfill basic needs).
Indeed, Chinese families tend to live together and share homes, food, chores, child-rearing and living expenses. Conversely, in the United States when children turn 18, they are emancipated and expected to provide for themselves. They are often ridiculed by family and friends if they depend too much on their extended family. As such, our young people receive less personal support.
Finally, you have to take into account health factors that depend on individual personal responsibility. These include lifestyle factors like diet, physical activity, addictive habits, social behaviors, education and income. You have to interpret a survey of life satisfaction in the context of the lifestyle choices made by those who take the survey.
With this in mind, I invite you to look at the Happy Planet Index and the Economist Intelligence Unit and see how you rate in their assessments. If you can’t take their assessments, review their data and compare your own life against it. Then, taking stock of your personal situation, habits, behaviors and choices, you can find ways to make changes in your life to improve not only your state of health but the quality of your life.