“All things considered, how satisfied are you with life as a whole nowadays?”
“I lead a purposeful and meaningful life.”
“In a typical week, how much of your time are you able to spend doing the things that you enjoy?”
“How satisfied are you with the support you get from friends?”
Not your typical survey questions.
We live in what might be described as the Survey Era. If the phone rings, chances are that if we haven’t won a “free” Caribbean vacation then someone on the line wants our opinions on something. Click on a website and a popup window might ask us to take the time to do a quick survey. Make a purchase and it is often followed by a call, email or letter — are you satisfied?
I’m hardly alone in describing myself as being “surveyed out”. After all, they never seem to make much difference. Every survey says my opinion is wanted, but when does expressing it ever lead to meaningful change?
So I was surprised at my positive reaction to a phone call — not a survey! — from Laura Hannant recently. The Kootenay Employment Services proposal co-ordinator was letting me know that residents in our area will have the opportunity to gauge their happiness in a survey that will run from Dec. 1-12.
“Like Bhutan!” I said. I know next to nothing about the tiny Asian country and couldn’t find it quickly on a map, but I do know that it has been surveying its citizens for many years, creating a happiness index to determine what direction the country should take in any number of areas.
It turns out, according to Laura, that happiness surveys are catching on around the world. Los Angeles, Seattle, the state of Vermont, Victoria and even Dubai have done happiness surveys. In England it has become national policy.
My reasons for liking the concept? I’m tired of being seen by governments as nothing more than a cog in the economic engine. Fed up with the endless string of economic data we are exposed to daily, almost none of it that has any true meaning. Sick to death of everything we do as humans being measured solely on its economic worth.
So I like the idea of someone, anyone (in this case the Creston and District Community Directed Funds committee) wanting to ask me about my well-being, my levels of satisfaction with things like health, time, work, community vitality, social supports and so on. If nothing else, it can provide something of a reality check. It’s easy to get caught up in the negatives even though we know as Canadians that most of us have a much easier go at life than the vast majority in many other countries.
Take the survey online, Laura says, and you will get an instant score. I’m not expecting a dramatic result. I like pretty much everything about my life and I am grateful for the many opportunities I have had. I like that I have a family I love, work that fulfills me, friends who inspire and amuse, and an endless number of interests that stimulate me. I like that I can start (or end) my day doing the New York Times crossword puzzle on the Internet. So I’m not expecting feedback that I think my life sucks. But others might, and I think it’s important that we have a sense of that.
Laura says that the survey should let us know “how our own community is doing in different domains of well-being and how we stack up to other parts of the world.”
It’s an observation that resonated. With the Town of Creston about to embark on a new official community plan, results of the survey can be an important tool as we discuss how we want our community to evolve in the coming years. We might be surprised that there are areas that we don’t have to put much emphasis on, where we are quite satisfied with what we already have. And it might give us direction to improve areas that we think are already pretty well covered.
I think we live in a pretty darn good community. But I also know that it can be better in many ways. This survey will give us a chance to spend a few minutes to evaluate our own perspective, and the results will give us some insight into how our friends and neighbours feel about life’s intangibles.
I will happily participate in any effort that encourages us to measure our worth in ways that aren’t strictly economic. We can use the occasional reminder that life isn’t only about money, and how much we have or don’t have.
Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.