Quality of Life, Happiness and A Place to Stand

 8-19-2015

Recently my wife and I watched Hector and the Search for Happiness, a movie about a psychiatrist who embarks on a quest to research happiness for his patients to discover he was searching for his own.  Yesterday, Monday, August 18th, I saw a clip on the internet claiming to be the list of happiest countries in the world (almost all were Scandinavian plus Switzerland, Australia and New Zealand).  Right up there with basic needs, our pursuit of happiness defines the human condition.  

The problem is, happiness is about as relative and subjective as a construct can be.  What makes women happy may diverge from what makes men happy which is sometimes different from what makes children happy.  What makes me happy might not make you happy.  Due to its subjective nature, many researchers prefer investigating what they call quality of life as opposed to happiness.  Of course, commonly agreed upon measures of quality of life prove practically as elusive as happiness.  Two indicators of quality of life that have prevailed among scholars are the relatively easy to measure longevity, and the somewhat more elusive loneliness. Longevity and loneliness seem to be how scholars have decided to determine whether or not our quality of life is good or bad.  If we live longer and are not too lonely, our life has been good.  If we die younger and feeling very lonely our life has been bad.  

Regarding longevity, two days ago a report on NPR provided data on a comparison of longevity in neighboring districts that was disturbing.  An 18-year gap.  Folks in one neighborhood die 18 years younger than the people in another.  Why? According to HUD secretary, Julian Castro, less fresh produce available in grocery stores, lower-quality available health-care, and prejudicial chemical dumping are three of the main culprits (See transcript below).

A Place to Stand combats the first two directly through urban organic farming and on-site health clinics.  The second, loneliness, may be a feeling mostly determined by the individual experiencing it.  However, when people feel like part of a community, this can combat that common human ailment, the sense of being alone.  Through our shared work, service, living space, meals, entertainment and families, we work to create a strong sense of belonging to a community.  We are not alone.   

This blog may have made you unhappy, but I was happy to write it (at least it signifies I’ve lived another day).  

Transcript retrieved from http://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2015-08-17/a-conversation-with-julian-castro-secretary-of-housing-and-urban-development .

 CASTROYeah. Thanks a lot for the question. This is a challenge that we see in places like St. Louis, also around Baltimore. It is striking that one of the findings I saw recently was that there’s an 18-year gap in life expectancy in Missouri between the Clayton zip code, which is 63105, the life expectancy is 85 years, and the JeffVanderLou neighborhood, zip code of 63106 in North St. Louis, which has a life expectancy of 67 years. And so the question is, well, what are we doing? So this community…

 11:21:24

REHMBut why is that? Why is that?

 11:21:29

CASTROI believe the factors are that where you live – and this is part of what the research found – where you live helps dictate life circumstances. I think it’s fairly straightforward, but it dictates everything from the quality of the health care that you get, the school that your children – the quality of the school that your children go to, whether you…

 11:21:47

REHMGrocery stores.

 11:21:48

CASTROFresh food, that’s right, whether you have access to fresh food or it’s all going to get fast food through the drive-thru. Access to transportation – oftentimes we know that there’s a legacy of basically environmental racism that has occurred in our country in terms of dumping the things that people wouldn’t want in a higher-end or middle-income neighborhood into lower-income communities.

 11:22:13

REHMSo you’ve still got redlining going on there?

 11:22:17

CASTROWell, I have no doubt that some of that still happens. We know that discrimination still happens out there. At HUD, our job is to help find that, to root it out and then to combat it and ensure that there’s a level playing field. The fact is that it does happen and so we’re working on that in the St. Louis neighborhood, in Baltimore and other communities. It’s also – it’s based on race but it’s based on things that people at first blush might not first think about. For instance, last year, our Fair Housing Office settled a case with Wells Fargo because they were discriminating against women who were pregnant – not lending out to women who were pregnant because the loan officer didn’t believe that she would actually go back to work.