How can we measure our lives in wellbeing rather than in numbers?
The moment we enter this world as newborn babies, we are immediately weighed and measured, inaugurating a lifelong process of numbering. Height, grades, calories, workouts, salaries, social media likes, Instagram followers, Facebook friends: these signs of status and symbols of success are powerful because they are quantifiable — or rather, because we have learned, as a culture, to value the quantifiable above all else.
Why have we done this? Because numbers make us feel good. Who hasn’t proudly remembered the sensation of happiness when getting a good grade in school, or got a kick out of a popular profile picture?
Numbers allow us to measure, compare, and analyze — skills that are key in life because they are so closely linked with logic and reason. And because logic and reason are fundamentally good qualities to have, our number-obsessed culture believes that numbers can only yield positive evolutions.
I founded my first company, Edifecs, on the premise of data’s power to make a difference for the better. In the context of HealthTech, data provided ways to assess — and therefore improve — healthcare provisions and levels in a local community. And when I began meditating in response to burnout symptoms, I was grateful to use an app that could keep track of my regular practice on a digital notebook, because it inspired discipline and perseverance.
Yet, as a seeker of wellbeing, I realize that numbers fall short when it comes to describing the more experiential aspects of our health: feelings like trauma, regret and loneliness; even physical compulsions like stress and nervosity. Wellbeing is not a quantifiable database: it’s a state of being. And because it can’t be measured entirely objectively, wellbeing is not valued by society as something to aspire to. It can’t be seen as a collective goal because it is too abstract for people to understand it in the same terms. And this is where our number-obsessed culture goes wrong. We determine our self-worth in accordance with things that we can number, rather than with feelings that make us happy. When was the last time anyone told you they were proud of themselves because they were happy? Chances are, you’ve never heard those two adjectives within the same sentence.
It’s our duty as seekers of wellbeing to reframe society’s view on this subject.
In my personal experience, I have found that a helpful and sustainable way of replacing numerical value tenets with wellbeing is to think of wellbeing in wholistic terms. Wholistic Wellbeing is not so much an end goal in itself as it is a lifestyle encompassing various strands that together make up our happiness within the world: physical, emotional, financial, professional, social, communitarian and planetary wellbeings are like the seven pieces of a puzzle which, once complete, spells out happiness and fulfilment. The point is that we shouldn’t hesitate to be slightly academic about wellbeing: just because it transcends numbers does not mean it transcends logic.
The equation of logic with numbers, however, has motivated numerous organizations and agencies to find ways to quantify wellbeing through factors like income, housing and ecological levels. To be sure, refusing to acknowledge the opportunity presented by measuring such factors would be foolish: the promise of wellbeing indexes, for example, is certainly an encouraging development in the field. But what we need to remember, amidst the optimism, is that numbers aren’t the full picture. To understand wellbeing wholistically, we need to recognize that parts of it are quantifiable, and others are not. And to measure our lives in wellbeing rather than in numbers, we need to start valuing wellbeing’s experiential aspects to the same degree as we do its quantifiable ones.
We need to start bridging the valuation gap between those factors we can number and those we can’t. I often think of the phonetic proximity between the word ‘numerous’ and the word ‘numinous’, which evokes the divine and the spiritual as a fitting metaphor for what I’m trying to explain: that the spiritual and the cold-hard-factual need to coexist in our visions of wellbeing and of our successes. Wholistic Wellbeing invokes both the numerous and the numinous: and we need to start measuring our worth in this way.