I stayed up far too late last night, but it was worth it. I was standing right in front of the stage at Babylon, watching Julie Doiron and Herman Dune play their sets. What a great lineup.

It was a quirky evening. My BH and I bought a Herman Dune mug, because I think it will make those cups of tea even more enjoyable. We had friends to hang out with, and we didn't get kicked out by the management, so that's an improvement from our past experiences at that venue......

Anyway, it got me thinking about my life. It's a good one - I know that. I feel very lucky to be surrounded by so many good people. But how do I measure my life? How do I decide that I am doing well, and by what standards? Milan's post reminded me how differently everyone weighs their successes and failures. When I think about it, many of the people I know use wildly different ways to measure out their lives. Here are some examples off the top of my head:

Carbon footprint: I have a few friends who measure just about everything they do by trying to calculate how harmful it is on the environment. Some of them do extremely well, integrating their lifestyle with the pressures of a materialistic society, and some of them struggle to find a reasonable balance.

Money: Many people I know spend all their time trying to accumulate more money. A lot of these people are miserable, but don't tell them that - they will point to their bank accounts to prove you otherwise. It's kind of depressing.

Sex: Some people tie their life's worth to the number of people they date. This can range from perfectly happy and stable adults, to people with very low self esteem, to people who really don't want to commit to anyone. Some of them are just lost.

Lifestyle: I have some friends who pay very close attention to how their lifestyle matches up with those around them. House, car, babies... All achieved because, y'know, isn't that what you're supposed to do? Sometimes they are genuinely happy, and sometimes you can tell that they're wondering what the hell they are doing.

Social life: We probably all place some weight on our friends, our social activities, our life outside the home. Some people are extremely gifted in this area, and don't seem to be drained by the constant demands of having a huge social network. Some people, like me, push it too hard and then hibernate for months at a time.

Work: I know a few people who have very good jobs... And that's it. Life is about their position in the hierarchy of the workplace. Everything is measured according to the possibility of promotion.

Art: There are a lot of artists in my family. Some do it casually, but some are completely engrossed in their art. Usually they maintain a good balance, but I do know of some examples where the art came before family, friends, and grocery bills.

Health: Understandably, I think people who have had major health scares place this much higher than society at large. It's easy to forget about your health until it fails you. I am starting to see this more in my own life, because I know I won't be young and spunky forever.

So the question is.... How do I measure my life?

I think my values continue to change and shift as I age. Maybe my answer to this question in a year's time will be different. But right now, this is it:

I'm starting to value quality over quantity.

Quality in friends - I know a lot of people, but I'm more interested in the people I keep close, and purging myself of bad influences. I've got less and less patience for assholes, and I've noticed lately that I trust very few people. This seems weird to me, but it's true. Quality in home life - I have an amazing partner, a wonderful dog, a great family. I wouldn't trade any of them for anything. My life would be very empty if I didn't have them around. I also try to find balance in my impact on the outside world, but this is tough to manage: I try to keep a diet that is less harmful than most, I travel by plane every few years, I don't own a car, I walk to work, I buy locally whenever I can... But my well-being and happiness still dictate to what extent I follow these things. There are some things I won't give up, like travel, buying books, imported wine, and some foods. I also don't respond well to preaching - I tend to tell people to go fuck themselves if they get all holier-than-thou on me. As for my art, this is an area where I feel like I'm failing. I simply haven't made space for musical growth the way I would like to. This will be a work in progress, I suppose - and hey, I'm actually recording some new songs in the next couple of weeks! As for money, work and lifestyle, I strive to be debt free and stable. I will likely never be rich. That's okay with me.

How do you judge your own life's success? How do you know if you're doing okay? Are there areas you'd like to work on? Tell me all about it. I'm listening.


Milan said...

Environmental impact is less about the quality of your life, and more about how much that lifestyle is hurting others. People who are careful to buy ethically produced goods are generally motivated by similar considerations.

We don't have the right to enjoyable lives at the expense of others, and yet (given the social, political, and economic context in which we live) it is very challenging to live a life that isn't harmful to other people in Canada, around the world, and in future generations.

Stella said...

So... How do you measure your personal quality of life, given all these factors?

Milan said...

Quality of life and the degree to which a life is ethical aren't necessarily related.

The pharoahs lived great lives (certainly compared to other people at the time), but you probably wouldn't argue that it was ethical to have slave armies building them monuments.

Stella said...

This post isn't about ethics, really, and you are avoiding the question.

Milan said...

I don't find measuring personal quality of life terribly important.

Stella said...

Seems odd that you are commenting on a post about personal quality of life, then.

Milan said...

Well, it was written in response to my post.

Environmentally-related choices are more an ethical matter than a matter of personal satisfaction (though the two are often at odds).

I used to think a fair bit about what having a good life means; now, I think more about what producing a better world requires.

Lynn said...

I really loved this post, Stella. It was very thoughtful and has me thinking about my own life.

I think that "measuring your life" would make a great theme or idea for a song.

Stella said...

My perceived quality of life and my ethical and environmental choices are intertwined. It's fine if that's not how it works for you.

Lynn, that's a lovely idea!

zoom said...

Hmmm. My quality of life. Well, every New Year's Eve I kind of do a big-picture review of my life over the past year, and see if I need to make changes anywhere. I think it's mostly about balance. Am I finding the right balance between emotional, social, physical, economic, domestic and creative priorities? Is there an area that needs work? If there is, I try to nudge myself towards it over the next year. It's not a big organized thing with spreadsheets and progress reports...it's just a bit of reflection, and taking stock, and being aware. And when I do identify an area that needs a little extra attention, I'm generally pretty good about rebalancing it over the year.

Interesting convo about ethics and quality of life, by the way. For me, they are intertwined - my quality of life would be negatively impacted by me consciously acting in an unethical manner. However, I do recognize a certain degree of willful blindness in myself - there are things I suspect I choose not to know enough about, in order to spare myself some ethical angst.

Stella said...

Thanks Zoom - I agree, it's all about balance, regardless of what bits you are balancing.

Milan said...

I cooked up a basic graph of the bind we are in, given today's technologies. If we set up the right incentives, it should eventually be possible to do a lot more personally enjoyable things in an environmentally acceptable way. For now, those who really want to avoid causing harm to defenceless members of future generations have few alternatives to the hair shirt approach.

Note: The examples in the graph correspond to one set of preferences. Obviously, the rankings will vary depending on the person. Someone who lives to motorcycle, for instance, might list being able to do so towards the top-right of this chart.

Stella said...

That's a great graph, Milan!

fuzz pedal said...

I think I measure quality of life by how much service I have been...in my work, my home, my community, and to myself. However, I do enjoy a frosty drink after a task!

Stella said...

Fuzz pedal... I think that's a great way to measure your life! You deserve that frosty drink.

Mud Mama said...

You know, the more stresses there are in my life the more narrow my quality of life focus gets. When I'm not dealing with as many stresses it expands to involve more things. A friend asked me what my three wishes were yesterday and without even thinking the three things that popped out of my mouth were "voluntary simplicity, grace, to sell our albatross of a house" So based on that I guess I measure my personal quality of life by how simply I can live my life, find enjoyment/peace/satisfaction in whatever life hands me, and not feel bound to past mistakes! When I'm a little old lady I want to be able to say "We didn't have much, but we sure had plenty".