Let’s imagine a guy who in his or her youth was dreaming about having a happy and prosperous life. This guy was skilful enough to sketch a plan in his head and live more or less according to its main points. Obviously, the assumption was that its realization would give her satisfaction, joy, fulfilment, opportunities, and high standard of living. That is what the whole idea of the plan was about. And, after some years, she was successful in materializing it. Good job, nice place to live, nice company around, family, access to goods, etc. She has more or less everything she had been dreaming before….but, strangely enough,….she has everything except the satisfactory sense of a high quality of life. Something really weird, because, not so long time before she had been dreaming about the very social status she enjoys now, but for some reasons, this status doesn’t give her the level excitement she had expected before. Why? Was the whole idea of the plan wrong? Or, perhaps, future in general is unpredictable? But, if so, why to predict anything at all?
Why do I say this story? To illustrate that one of the main indicators of the present satisfaction with the quality of life is comparing it with former expectations.
Is the ‘satisfactory quality of life’ predictable for us?
One of the easiest ways to answer the question: is the satisfactory quality of life predictable? is to say this. Our contemporary world, especially in the West, is so changing that it’s hardly possible to know for sure what’s gonna happen in a few years. The job market is evolving very fast and the world of technology even faster. How can you know what jobs will be demanded in a decade? How many new professions, inconceivable now, will be invented in the meantime? The quality of everything is changing so rapidly….is it, then, possible, that the sense of the quality of life evolves this way too? And the expectations and ambitions follow all this? On the other hand, we live longer and longer. Not only can we say what challenges we will face in some years, but it’s impossible for most of us to imagine ourselves acting and having fun in twenty, thirty or forty years ahead. So, everything about us is unpredictable?
Which aspects of the good life are most predictable?
Can we predict anything important to our lives at all? How can we predict at all our joys, sorrows, expectations, everything that will take place in ten or twenty years? You can easily do it in static societies, in which nothing important changes. But in dynamically evolving societies, where everything is in a constant change? Or, perhaps, it’s a never-ending work over ourselves, I mean a sort of internal job over myself to assess, every some time, what is good for me. If the second, then, it’s not the question of predictability but rather the question of a constant updating at least two factors: one, is your subjective criterion for ‘quality of life’ that is enjoyable and, two, the more objective one. So we end up with the question what ‘quality of life means? Not an easy thing to think over, but worth it.
What ‘quality of life’ means at all?
Many people, unaware, define their quality of life by comparison with their former expectations about it. They measure it by simply feeling if they have achieved what they had planned before. This is one source of defining ‘quality of living’. There are many more as well. There are external sources that tell us that ‘quality of life’ should be calculated according to the income in your country. Meaning: you are above the average income, you have a high quality. Easy. On the other hand, many people who have high income, use much part of it to pay for the therapies they need to somehow deal with life…so, what’s going on here? This craze about it is the reason why I recommend the Stoic notion of personal autonomy (ataraxia) as a precondition for any sort of a serious assessment. I think it’s over-generational, which means that it can be applied irrelevantly of the time and culture you’ve been living in. Its most characteristic feature is the reservation towards the conventional criteria of what is the quality and what is not, in favour of the personal criteria that refer to your basic emotions and most natural needs.
How to ‘invest’ our attention to quality of life?
So, yes, according to this Stoic ideal of autonomy, we should invest in the quality of life, but in OUR, most natural understanding of the quality of life: satisfaction of possibly all important spheres of life independently of what we hear (from omnipresent commercials in omnipresent mass media) about the absolute necessity of buying the newest versions of iPod, buying the most fashionable snickers, and about the absolute necessity to have at least a month of vacation in the Seychelles to rest enough. It’s one, the Stoic, part of the story. The other one, the pragmatist, is to work over the realization of your internal potential that you have according to the possibilities that your social context offers you. Combining these two means: you don’t have to follow the current fashions; it’s better and healthier to recognize your own understanding of the quality of life and enjoy it, instead of generating frustration in you and outside of you.
One of the ways to see if your understanding of the quality of your life has changed is to play this sort of game. Take a sheet of paper and try to write at least five ideas you had TEN YEARS AGO about your good life, the ideas that YOU HAVE SUCCESSFULLY REALIZED. Try to remind yourself what you were thinking or dreaming about; I mean, things that would make your life successful and you did it. Five things. Having written that, think about them in this way: was I right to assume then that they would give me so much fun? In other words, you want to know if your investment in them as the contributors to the quality of life was appropriate, if you want to correct something in the present context.
I have a 25 year-long professional experience. It’s mostly as a university professor, but also includes coaching, consulting, and teaching. 35 years of karate as a hobby and the best way of learning self-discipline.