What you treasure, measure. (Really?)

“What you treasure, measure.”

Sir Gus O’ Donnell, head of the UK civil service, on measuring well-being.
“In the so-called arts it has always been acknowledged that many of the things we value most — the gods and god, love and sexuality, mourning and amusement, character and inspiration, the past and the future — are neither measurable or predictable. indeed, this may be one of the reasons they are so abidingly important to us. the things we value most, just like the things we most fear, tend to be those we have least control over.”

Adam Phillips


  • Jayarava says:

    As I said on my G+ page recently: every measurement has a degree of accuracy, precision, and error.

    What I want to know is how accurate is this measure of well-being – against what universal standard is it being measured. Where is the ISO unit for happiness? Kilosmiles?

    I want to know to what precision the measurement goes. Smiles, centismiles, or millismiles? Or what? Another aspect of precision is whether we would measure the national aggregate, or have subsets.

    And I want to know about the extent of the error in the measurement and the sources of error.

    If someone could supply me with some of these figures I might take the measurement more seriously. Is there any information at all about any of these parameters?

  • I remember asking questions like this back in college– ones like, "how many people each day do you have to successfully persuade to your point of view, before you can rightfully call yourself a persuasive person?"– and getting an answer to the effect of, "There's no answer. You just know."

    Which is the correct answer, of course– you can't quantify persuasiveness, like so many other personal qualities. But in that context, hearing that irritated me. Because I would hear it right after hearing a dead-certain subjective judgment on their part, that I was not persuasive. Then, when I attempted to (half-sarcastically) ask how to quantify persuasiveness, they would just give some knowing smile and say some version of "you just know." As if they were trying to have it both ways.

    It also makes one feel that these measurements are rigged from the beginning, that despite the measurers' proclamations to the contrary, there is a right answer, a right amount of happiness, a base minimum of people you must persuade every day… but they're not telling you. But they will find you lacking in one way or another.

  • This is a Phillip Lopate poem I found on one of my favorite blogs, Hugo Schwyzer's, on the everyday paranoia of living in a social world:

    We Who Are Your Closest Friends

    we who are
    your closest friends
    feel the time
    has come to tell you
    that every Thursday
    we have been meeting
    as a group
    to devise ways
    to keep you
    in perpetual uncertainty
    discontent and
    by neither loving you
    as much as you want
    nor cutting you adrift

    your analyst is
    in on it
    plus your boyfriend
    and your ex-husband
    and we have pledged
    to disappoint you
    as long as you need us

    in announcing our
    we realize we have
    placed in your hands
    a possible antidote
    against uncertainty
    indeed against ourselves
    but since our Thursday nights
    have brought us
    to a community of purpose
    rare in itself
    with you as
    the natural center
    we feel hopeful you
    will continue to make
    demands for affection
    if not as a consequence
    of your
    disastrous personality

    then for the good of the collective

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