Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Measurable Benefits

Lately The Atlantic has been touting the health benefits of lots of things I believe in, like walkable neighborhoods ("Do We Look Fat in These Suburbs? People in dense cities are thinner and have healthier hearts than people in sprawling subdivisions") and meeting your neighbors ("Always Talk to Strangers: People who know and trust their neighbors are less likely to have heart attacks"). On the one hand, it's nice to know that things that you're drawn to have health benefits (this is how I feel about coffee and sleep). On the other hand, if you do these things for the health benefits, you might not really be doing them: What kind of real neighborliness can come from you hoping to decrease your rate of heart attacks? Real neighborliness comes from a desire to care for and connect with the things around you.

Similarly, I caught the end of some Ford Foundation ad on NPR the other day; they were talking about something to the effect of making a measurable improvement to the quality of peoples' lives. A measurable improvement to the quality of peoples' lives? I'm all about improving the quality of peoples' lives; I'm just far less interested in measuring it. Here's how they talk about it with regard to combating child marriage: "Together, we have an opportunity and obligation to make a measurable, meaningful difference in the lives of millions of girls." What in the world does "measurable" add to that sentence? I agree--it's better if children aren't married off. Do we need to measure the increase in happiness? Do we only want to improve the quality of peoples' lives in ways that can be measured? Is everything measurable, given enough time and data?

I think that these things just miss the point of happiness. For that, we probably just have to go back to Aristotle.

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