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Robert Kennedy on Measuring Quality of Life


“The gross national product (of a country) does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.
— Robert Kennedy, March 18, 1968

How are we measuring a life well lived?

Is it quality of life based on a personal assessment of what makes us happy? Or are we allowing media and popular culture, systems that know nothing about us, to steer us to false measurements?

What are the things that need to be happening for you to feel great? Making enough income so you don’t have too much financial stress? Spending lots of time with family for personal enjoyment plus the sense of harmony that comes with a house “in order”? Helping others less fortunate? Making time in your life to count your blessings? Having adequate alone time so you can assess things in your life, work and personal? Spending time in nature? Doing things you love whether travel, going to the movies, listening to music, playing sports, watching a ballgame on TV? Having a short commute? The list goes on.

You might not have arrived yet at your ultimate quality of life. For example, you have a goal of working within five miles of home and perhaps right now it is not practical. The point is to know what your quality of life drivers are so you can arrive at them as soon as possible but reckoning with

So going back to 30,000 feet, what does quality of life mean to you?

13 Responses to “Robert Kennedy on Measuring Quality of Life”

  1. Drew Kossoff says:

    “Quality of life” to me is ultimately about having the FREEDOM to do and enjoy what I want, when I want, where I want with whom I want. But achieving a great quality of life doesn’t necessarily equal instant happiness. Happiness is always a CHOICE and regardless of the “circumstances” of our lives, many people never realize that there is no “way” to happiness, happiness is the way!

  2. Aaron says:

    As usual, RFK got it right. Quality of life cannot be measured by income but rather a number of intangible sensations one receives through family, hobbies, meeting goals, etc.

  3. Alok says:

    As far as I know, there is only one country in the world that focuses on defining progress in a way other than material progress. Bhutan, a small country in the north of India defines its progress in terms of “Gross National Happiness”.
    More countries should follow its example.

  4. Matt says:

    How accurate Robert Kennedy’s comments are in these times. I think that there is a new trend that is developing in our country that will affect many people’s definition of quality of life. The trend is that people are starting to recognize (for the first time in many years) that quality of life doesn’t need to be about what you do for a living or what car you drive. It is about the experiences you have with friends and family….I call it the “frugal future” and it is refreshing to see that the little things are back in Vogue.

  5. Carlos says:

    Quality of Life – Robert Kennedy
    To me, a good quality of life means surrounding yourself with people and things that make you happy. It means doing something meaningful with your life and pursuing your dreams and goals. I agree that things which define “quality of life” are intangible and the things that are tangible are better suited for the definition of “standard of life.”

  6. Love that Kennedy quote. For me, it’s about the ability to spend the greatest amount of time absorbed in activities and relationships that fill me up, surrounded by people I cannot get enough of. Everything else is lifestyle gravy. 🙂

  7. Joshua Steiger says:

    Observation has taught me that we are trained to think of “quality of life” as something we possess or achieve. That it is external. Experience has taught me otherwise. That it flows from the inside out. People who are grateful for the abundance of their intangibles, no matter the plentitude or lack of their tangibles, generally have a high character quotient. When we live that fundamental principle, the tangibles and accomplishments appear by the simple act of showing up each day!

  8. Gil Gerstein says:

    Thank you Kennedy for making a speech that 40 years later gave me the chills. I’ve always felt that we live in a society that is so incredibly advanced technologically but so juvenille in its moral, social and spiritual growth. I look forward not to the next industrial revolution but to a social revolution. A time in our lives where morality and humanity have more weight than computer advancements and iphone accessories. I love my iphone but I would love more to have an application that measures the souls and integrity of individuals and rewards them for their kindness, heart and humanity.

  9. Alberto says:

    Its difficult not to be influenced by media and popular culture to take as a measure on how we should live well.
    But at the same time, it is those times when I have followed what I believe should be my own measurements, when I truly feel I am happy.

  10. Ironically the most meaningful parts of a life well-lived do not seem measurable yet the lack of loving connection and self-less contribution is keenly felt

    In a civilization when love is
    gone we turn to justice and when
    justice is gone we turn to power
    and when power is gone we
    turn to violence.

    Opportunity is often inconvenient.

    Remember the many
    compartments of the heart,
    the seed of what is
    possible. So much of who
    we are is defined by
    the places we hold for each
    other. For it is not our ingenuity
    that sets us apart, but our
    capacity for love, the
    possibility our way will
    be lit by grace. Our hearts
    prisms, chiseling out the
    colors of pure light

  11. It is so easy to lose sight of what makes each of us happy. We, including myself, are all guilty of getting caught up in our day to day routines that we lose sight of what matters most.
    Like you mentioned, everyone defines their own happiness by what they value in their own life.
    But no matter what it is, it is important to take time out to reflect and live consciously so that you create the life you want to live.

  12. Matt Singley says:

    That is such a timeless quote, but during these particularly difficult economic times…so important to remember. I’m going to focus on the good things in life today!

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