I’m very intrigued by the idea that we need measurements of well-being and success that go beyond income and GDP. Sure, I could have taken another contract and worked all weekend long but I’m in a position where I can choose to go kayaking instead and take care of my mental and physical health. I fully recognize that everyone needs enough income to be able to meet their needs but then it seems to me that there is a balance between how much money I earn and how much time I have for myself, my friends, and my family. This is a growing sentiment within sustainability with multiple different proposals and models for measuring success. For more, you can check out my post on value.
The challenge that many raise is how do we make this alternative measurement objective? Lutz et al (2020) have developed a metric based on life expectancy, as well as indicators of objective and subjective well-being. They argue that this can help to measure, as well as set targets for, sustainability. So what does their measurement include? The first piece is life expectancy. However, they recognize that well-being is about more than just being alive so they also include capable longevity which includes being out of poverty, cognitively able, and no severe activity limitations. Finally, it includes years with positive life satisfaction, which they recognize is purely subjective. However, I can see the benefits of including this component because there are so many subjective components to well-being. For example, someone might not be able to rise from a chair, which would be an objective measure of activity limitations, but feel satisfied with what they are able to do. The authors argue, that their years of good life measure, is able to account for differences between sub-populations and therefore can provide a more accurate assessment.
This is always one of the challenges with trying to look beyond the GDP as a measure, how do we measure things that may be culturally dependent or even be significantly different at individual levels. How can we possibly understand what supports a community needs without objective measures? However, as someone who used to conduct kids programming in low income communities regularly, there are very important objective and subjective measures beyond just the income of the community. How close is the nearest grocery store comes to mind as a first question. While I’m not sure that the Years of Good Life is going to take off as the sustainability measurement, I think that it is important that we are looking for alternatives that recognize that life is multifaceted and requires a lot more than a base number of income or GDP if we want to consider what is really important and what we need to do to achieve sustainability.