The numbers we obsess about

I've been thinking about how our obsessions as individuals, organizations, and countries are dictated by the numbers we measure. Money is an obvious example.

You can easily open a website with a number that tells you how much money you have. And so we worry and obsess about it. We convert X hours into Y amount of money through this thing called a job.

But what's the problem? Is the whole point of your life to create as much money as possible? Or is money just a means to an end? Surely the point is to be safe, fed, and have the ability to express yourself. In other words, being happy. So are you sacrificing happiness at the altar of maximising money? How many hours have you spent with your family? How many of your own passions have you put aside? Is there a page that shows you that number? What is the quality of your relationship with your daughter or son? Is there a page with that number?

So why are we not measuring happiness? Well it's hard. But it would be amazing to have a dashboard that shows you the number of hours you've spent with the family, the amount of money you have, the number of projects you're pursuing, the quality of your relationships, your health and other metrics which are relevant and important. That way we could track those things we sacrifice in the process of converting time into money into happiness.

Companies and even countries run into this obstacle as well. The concept of GDP is another metric which countries are obsessed with maximising. The idea being that quality of life tracks directly along with GDP. The problem is that while that maybe true, to some extent, it has two crucial downfalls. Firstly, the correlation between GDP and quality of life decreases and then plateaus at high GDP so more growth does not equal more happiness. The second problem is that it misses the crucial issue of sustainability. What's the point of having a huge GDP today at the expense of GDP tomorrow?

Simply put a country uses its people to convert resources, natural or otherwise, to build things which are of value which then generate wealth. We take resources and convert them to money. Problem is, resources are scarce. People can only work so much before they become tired and burnt out, there are only so many deposits of coal, metal ores, and water in the world. The world can only take so much pollution before the equilibrium is broken and we all get screwed.

This obsession with monetary growth, both personal and national, and the misguided pursuit to maximise the wrong number has led humanity as a whole to become more like a parasite than a cohabiting organism. We concern ourselves with numbers which are easy to measure and reflect the now. How big is my TV instead of how happy am I really?

Over the next few months I will try to look at creating a kind of life dashboard and see how far I get. I will let you know how I get on. In the meantime let me know what you think. Are we obsessed with the wrong nags, should it even matter?