In 1962, Simon Kuznets, one of the inventors of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) said “the welfare of a nation can scarcely be inferred from a measure of national income. If the GDP is up, why is America down? Distinctions must be kept in mind between quantity and quality of growth, between costs and returns and between the short and long run. Goals for more growth should specify more growth of what and for what.”
Simon was aware of the limitations GDP had on measuring the health of a country through GDP. Furthermore GDP at no point accounts for the detrimental environmental impacts of production, it doesn’t reconcile increases in the public service sector for such things as healthcare & public education well (as these do not profit the private industry) and it struggles to distinguish between profit from goods and profit from experiences (which are generally far eco-friendlier) 1. In short, the GDP is one small measurement of how economists have decided things need to be measured and one which we have accepted. But GDP is an unreliable indicator of the true wellbeing of a country. Culturally, we are yet to determine how we want to measure this and how we can as everyone has different ideas of wellbeing and priorities. In countries like Nepal they are attempting this through Gross National Happiness instead.
Just like measuring our health as an economy and country through GDP is useless, so is measuring our business and life success through our income.
Both GDP, and our business P&L reports require constant growth to appear healthy, on track and successful. But at what cost?
This past year is the least I have earned (in personal income) in all my years in business except the first. It is also the happiest I have been with the work I do and the way the business is run. My income alone is not a good indicator at all of whether I am doing well.
Being a corporate escapee, I can assure you that deep down, most office workers can also tell you that their six-figure income has in nearly every case not correlated with a positive uptick in their happiness; in fact for many, it has come at the cost of freedom & time – the essential and only things we really own in life.
So how do we measure our health and success instead? How do we “live a life we love” as they say without knowing what exactly this kind of life looks like? For me, the idea was sparked by famed designer Stefan Sagmeister in The Happy Film. He very briefly brought up a practice whereby he lists 12 important things to him that make him happy when he engages in them (or doesn’t as the case may be) and then quickly rates his success with these each week from 1 (good) through 5 (poor). He adds up the figures and divides by 12 to get his average of the week. If it’s a 1 or a 2 he’s had a great week by his chosen standards. Anything else requires some adjustment.
This idea twirled in my mind for a long time. Initially it provides an excellent foundation on which to even consider what is truly important to you – what makes you a happier person? Secondly, it gives you a set of principles to come back to when making decisions and deciding how to go about your weeks. Does this new action, habit, project or opportunity align with my values? And thirdly, the weekly check-up allows you to check-in with yourself to see how you’re going living according to your values and what you need to tweak. Instead of bemoaning wasted weeks, or feeling lethargic or sleepwalking through life, you’re taking positive action to creating weeks and decisions that truly make you feel good. Over time I also believe that your values and priorities change and you can simply adjust the list as you feel fit. Experiment with what is important to you and what does make your days feel good and meaningful.
I have always been an avid proponent that if you show me where you spend your time & money, I’ll show you where your priorities lie. This activity seems to allow you to actually nut this out and proactively consider it.
So how does this look in practise? Well this is how mine is looking right now.
1. Kind but strong boundaries
I am happy when I adhere to my own personal and business boundaries and protect these fiercely but kindly.
2. Be vulnerable
I am good at being open, I am not so good at being vulnerable. Have I been vulnerable this week? Brave? Gone deeper where I normally wouldn’t? I believe this will improve me as human and make my relationships stronger.
3. Capture or edit photos
I love capturing and editing photos. Weeks without doing this feel like I am missing something. Whether it’s shooting for fun, shooting for clients, editing years of photos still left to do or creating posts of these I feel totally in the zone and lost in my own story telling world when I do this.
4. Acts of kindness
I have a not-so-secret belief that the world would be entirely different place if we had more empathy and compassion. At macro levels in communities you already see this at work. I also lead a very (happily) busy life and do not feel I do enough for my friends, people with less opportunities than I have purely through my place of birth etc. So whether it’s writing an appreciative letter, sending groceries to the refugee centre or sitting down with a bagel and conversation with someone on the street, I believe in the importance of this and really want to do it more.
5. Catchup with inspiring friends or people
I can be pretty introverted. I can also easily spend a month on my own or in cafes watching people. And the lack of planning in some cities (looking at you Perth, Sydney & Los Angeles) makes catching up a logistical nightmare. But whenever I get together with my inspiring friends and new humans in my life I leave absolutely bouncing. I am excitable. I have ideas. I have more faith in the world. So no matter how I feel, this will always make me a better, happier human. As Jim Rohn said, we are the average of the 5 people we spend the most time with.
6. Work out (in nature, gym or class)
Easy one – nearly all of us get the happy dolphins (or endorphins for the rest of us) when we work out. I am a particular fan of hiking to waterfalls (which gets my camera involved and nearly always includes a swim too) and Lagree & spin classes (scream at me more and pump the music louder!).
7. Eat from the ground
I’ve been pretty vegetarian2 for a long, long time. I stopped eating dairy (other than some cheese) when I lived in Cambodia 5 years ago (thanks to no-milking cows) and I adore green juices and homemade smoothies. I’ve always only ever made nearly every meal at home and I think the easiest way to be healthy is just to eat mostly plants. No crazy rules, no restrictions – just don’t put crap in your body the majority of the time, cut out the fizzy pop and all that sugary & chemical filled processed food, add lots of fresh vegetables and herbs to everything and cook it yourself. It isn’t, and shouldn’t be, difficult. The better I eat, the better I feel and the more energy I have to do things I love.
8. Create, design, make or release something
This one is a bit of a duh being that I’m a designer and maker of things but there have been periods where I am so lost in other activities that I have barely done this. Also when you’re growing a business you end up mostly managing instead of creating. It’s a good reminder to not grow in this way unless I want to hire a people manager. My business decisions therefore reflect this.
9. Write something
I am not necessarily good at writing. I also do not always love it though I suspect this has much more to do with a lack-of-time issue than that I actually do not like the process of it. I do think it is a good habit. I also feel accomplished when I do so. And I love connecting with other people through it. Given I run a few businesses where articles and emails are a part of it, this is a very good practise and happy-maker for me! I find I enjoy it most when getting up, heading to a cafe, drinking a tea and writing without internet for an hour.
10. Spend time outdoors
Doctors used to prescribe sunshine and mountain air for patients who were feeling depressed. It makes sense. Vitamin A & D are important, so is real light from the sun (not the artificial kind in your office) and as is fresh, breathable air with a cool or warm breeze. And being away from your screens. Yes, all of them. Need a start? Go to the sea, stand ankle deep and look up at the hemisphere. See how big it is? We’re all just teeny specks and little matters. That’s pretty freeing.
11. Learn something new
When I was in school I had an insatiable lust for learning thanks in large part to the teachers in the public education sector (I changed schools about every two years on average so had broad exposure to them!). I read The Thornbirds at 12. I devoured the Masters of Rome series. I had an Ancient History teacher (shoutout to Peter Harmsworth) who encouraged my thirst for knowledge by making everything so interesting and in many ways became an inspiration in my life. He was hilarious (he once did a Tina Turner impression in class that was somehow in context), genuinely loved what he did and pursued that and was only too happy to entertain debates on areas he was incredibly knowledgable in. Learning keeps us curious. Learning uses our brains. Learning shows us what is possible. Learning helps us empathize with other people. Learning makes us feel accomplished. Learning provides deeper conversation. Consume. Learn. Make.
12. Love only time
Because when all is said and done, spending your time with the person / people you love most in the world, your favorite humans, is just as, or more, important than anything else. Also, if you’re lucky enough to have a lover you adore, we should give this high priority and give as much to them as they give to us.
That’s the 12 I’m starting with. Your turn.
- To read more about this pick up the Curing Affluenza book by Richard Denniss
- I’m not crazy about boxes or classifications except not eating red meat at all. I say pretty vegetarian because I like to be relaxed about it and am not actually an altogether, completely anti-animal person. It’s not my thing and I don’t need it, but thousands of years ago we sustainably and sensibly ate animals a couple of times a month amongst all the berries and cassava, we’ve just gone way, way off track with cruelty, factory farms, hormones and a whole lot of other crap. Eat from the ground and do what is right for your body and the environment at large.