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Defining ‘quality of life’ not so simple

It is an hour before dark and my wife and I are riding our new bicycles across the Pelahatchie Bay Causeway at the Barnett Reservoir just north of Jackson. A gorgeous sunset paints the western sky with pinks, reds and oranges on a blue-gray canvas. My wife turns to me and says, “Now this is what I call quality of life.”

Ah, there it is again. That subjective, ambiguous term that we all know what it means, but it is so difficult to define. Aristotle talked about it a lot and generally defined it as happiness. There is even an outfit called the International Society of Quality of Life, which has healthcare as its primary focus. A glance at some of the magazine surveys on the subject reveal that although the term might be somewhat subjective, there is little disagreement on its fundamental meaning.

The Economist magazine in its “The World in 2005” publication listed the following nine items as quality of life indicators: 1. Material well-being; 2. Health; 3. Political stability and security; 4. Family life; 5. Community life; 6. Climate and geography; 7. Job Security; 8. Political freedom; and 9. Gender equality. By the way, Ireland came in at number one on the survey and the United States came in at number 13.

Money magazine’s well-known annual “Best Places to Live” survey uses 36 quality of life indicators and six economic opportunity indicators, according to the publication’s Web site. The quality of life indicators include such items as schools, crime, traffic and job opportunities. One of its surveys found that the most important quality of life indicators used by people looking for a new place to live are ample job opportunities, good schools and low crime. The most disliked features are congestion, high crime and lack of job opportunities.

Area Development magazine’s 2005 Annual Corporate Survey lists “Quality of Life” as its own special section. The corporate respondents listed the following in order as the most import quality of life attributes: 1. Low crime rate; 2. Health facilities; 3. Housing costs; 4. Housing availability; 5. Ratings of public schools; 6. Cultural opportunities; 7. Climate 8. Colleges and universities in area; 9. Recreational opportunities.

Two important stats

I think that Don Jud, a professor emeritus at the Bryan School of Business and Economics at UNC-Greensboro, may be on to something. In the August 11, 2006, edition of The Business Journal of the Greater Triad Area, he said that it is difficult to determine a town’s quality of life based on certain economic statistics, calling such studies arbitrary. He said using a factor like per-capita income can be misleading because it does not take into account the cost of living for that city.

“The two most important statistical factors to use when determining an area’s quality of life are the number of people moving to a community and the percentage of people with college degrees,” Jud said. “Educated people are the most mobile, and are more likely to choose where they want to live.”

Hitting the trails — the Rails to Trails

Regardless of how we might define quality of life, the above surveys indicate that it is certainly an important factor these days. As you might have guessed from the first paragraph, in my household, recreational bike riding has become a new quality of life factor.

This past weekend my wife and I hauled our bikes down to Prentiss, the northern gateway of the Longleaf Trace, a 41-mile long biking, hiking and equestrian Rails to Trails linear park. During the first mile of the ride, we rode upon a doe and her two small fawns, who allowed us to get within 50 feet before bounding into the woods . We rode 11 miles to Bassfield, where we stopped at a Texaco convenience store/snack shop operated by one of the friendliest retailers we have ever encountered. He wanted to know if there were any items we wanted that he did not have in stock. Typical Mississippi hospitality.

Eleven miles back to our starting point on a September day that provided lower-than-normal humidity and my wife and I turned to each other and said at the same time, “Now that’s quality of life.”

About Phil Hardwick

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