The New York Times recently reported that Somerville Massachusetts added the question “How happy do you feel right now?” to their census in an effort to become the first city in the US to systematically track people’s happiness. Whether measuring happiness is the “right” parameter on which to judge is anyone’s guess—it certainly opens one up to ridicule as evidenced by the census answers reported. However, striving to understand our experience in ways beyond strictly quantifiable “objective” measures is to be applauded.
Our culture values the measurable. It’s a carryover from the Industrial Revolution when the manufacturing model was king. Look at what we focus on at work…it’s all about efficiency and effectiveness. We’re taught to overvalue what we can measure and undervalue everything else. While efficiency and effectiveness are certainly important, they don’t tell the complete story.
To be efficient and effective you need good managers, people who communicate effectively, encourage individuals to work as a team and create healthy environments that result in less turnover. The very behaviors that are critical to reducing suffering in the workplace. Those talents are often labeled “soft skills” a pejorative term for subjectively measured achievements. To stay profitable a company must innovate. Innovation requires creativity—rarely an efficient and effective process in the traditional sense.
The idea of using parameters beyond economic growth as a success measure is not new. The most prominent example was France’s 2009 effort to include happiness as an economic measure for their country. Evolving our measures is an important step forward in creating both a workplace and a world where people can thrive. Let’s hope more communities emulate the intent of the officials in Somerville.