What does quality of life mean to you?

Terri Buckner writes:

In 2013, a couple of European psychologists reviewed the literature in an attempt to define the term “quality of life.” Their conclusion was that it “turn[s] out to be an ambiguous and elusive concept.”

In an editorial in the Chapel Hill News, Travis Crayton and Molly DeMarco claimed “Many of us might have originally chosen to live in Chapel Hill/Carrboro because of the high quality of life, exemplified by a vibrant student life, arts and music scene, and abundance of unique, local businesses.”

CHALT members have staked out their desire to “Protect the quality of life in Chapel Hill’s residential neighborhoods, where we live and raise our children.”

Social science researchers learn in introductory methodology courses to define their terms up front. So I am asking you to share your thoughts. What does ‘quality of life’ mean to you? We know there isn’t a “right” answer, but that doesn’t mean we can’t come to a local consensus. If we can construct a shared definition, perhaps it will make conversations about solutions more inclusive, or at least less divisive.

I am posting this same request on OrangePolitics, a blog that targets a different demographic. My plan is to take the contributions and compose a definition and share it in my next Chapel Hill News column. If you are willing to let me use your name (for those who post with their real names) in that article, please include the “You may use my name” at the end of your first post in the thread.
–Terri Buckner

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  1. Fred Black

     /  January 29, 2015

    Terri, setting aside the use of the term by the medical community and the importance that they attach to it, to me as an individual, quality of life speaks to the viable and significant options that are available for me to select. Choice is therefore the important concept, and the choices should be viable and worthwhile. For the civic view of quality of life, it is much the same. A community has a positive and affirming quality of life when it offers options and choices that truly enhance how the members of the community are able to live together.

    You may use my name.

  2. Terri

     /  January 29, 2015

    What kind of choices do you want Fred? Some choices are determined by infrastructure decisions (sidewalks) while others are cultural (friendliness) and others are economic (affordable housing, quality schools). I’m sure there are other categories of choice as well. Assuming we can’t have everything, what are your top priorities?

  3. Fred Black

     /  January 29, 2015

    That’s the rub with your original question. As we move through Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we have a difficult time as members of a community deciding our desired priorities. If only individuals and communities had good answers. Maybe others here do, but to me it’s a moving train.

  4. Terri

     /  January 29, 2015

    That’s why I’m asking the question Fred. I keep seeing the phrase used, sometimes very authoritatively, but if there is no concrete definition, it’s just meaningless jargon.

    For myself, I can say that easy access to whole, unprocessed foods and open, unpaved and unprogrammed spaces
    are the qualities I want above all those basic Maslow needs like shelter and safety.

  5. Fred Black

     /  January 29, 2015

    So where are all the other attempts to answer?

  6. many

     /  January 29, 2015

    Glad you asked. On top of the first three tiers of the Maslow pyramid and in no particular order; space/elbow room, privacy, access to data and knowledge, new ideas, goals, comradely, art/music, challenge/lively debate/contrasting opinion, a wood burning fireplace, freedom to travel, freedom to speak my mind, a dog……….a good game of chess, good ethnic food, the knowledge of being in contrast to having. I could go on…..

    You may use my name.

  7. David

     /  January 29, 2015

    The social scientist Stephen Boyden devised a list of what he called “LIfe conditions conducive to health in homo sapiens” based on consideration of the life conditions of human hunter-gatherer populations and his conjecture that these are the conditions to which our bodies and minds are optimally adapted,and under which we are most likely to thrive. I think one could consider it a list of the biophysical and socio-psychological conditions that contribute to a high quality of life.

    Here’s Boyden’s list (it’s long):
    Clean air
    Clean water
    Balanced diet devoid of potentially noxious contaminants
    Environmental temperatures within range found in natural habitat
    Exposure to visible light (duration and intensity) within range experienced in natural habitat
    Noise levels within range of those experienced in the natural habitat
    Minimal contact with parasites and pathogens
    Levels of sensory stimulation neither much greater nor much less than those of the natural habitat
    Pattern of physical activity that involves some short periods of vigorous muscular work, longer periods of moderate muscular work, and frequent periods of rest.
    Opportunities and incentives for active involvement in recreational activities
    Effective emotional support network
    Frequent daily interaction with members of one’s in-group on matters of mutual interest and concern
    Opportunities and incentives for small-group interaction on projects of mutual interest and concern
    A social environment which confers responsibilities and obligations on the individual towards the in-group
    Opportunities to move spontaneously and freely from one small group to another, and to and from a state of solitude.
    Opportunities and incentives for the learning and practice of manual skills
    Considerable variety in daily experience
    Short goal-achievement cycles
    Aspirations of a kind likely to be fulfilled
    An environment and lifestyle conducive to a reasonable degree of a sense of
    Personal involvement
    Comradeship and love

  8. Terri

     /  January 30, 2015


    What matters most to you personally?

  9. longtime reader

     /  January 30, 2015

    Quality of life for me is inextricably tied to how difficult it is to live and get day to day things done. While I like options and variety in shopping and activities, it won’t be interesting if it is too expensive, hard to get to or unavailable due to demand. Even worse is something that used to be fun or useful that is now too expensive, too difficult to get to because of parking or traffic or completely full. (See downtown.)

    If you can’t enjoy it, it might as well not exist for you – unless you live here just to humblebrag all the cool things other people do.

    For me, Chapel Hill continues to get more expensive, harder to move around, more boxed in with canyon-style developments and massive “drop-in” faux village neighborhoods. My day-to-day life deteriorates with more time spent on the road simply trying to get across town, with the hunt for parking, with increasing taxes that more or less subsidize newcomers and with increasingly crowded common resources like parks and schools. (And really, we’ll be able to walk faster across the tops of cars than drive on Fordham once Obey Creek is built. Thanks again, Mr. Perry.)

    The type of development going on here is superficial, cheap and easy. We’re not making Chapel Hill better for people who live here. It’s like the cable company that promises discounts to new subscribers while refusing to offer better services to longtime customers. When you don’t take care to invest in your existing infrastructure, neighborhoods and schools, it gets frustrating to see another residential development coming that will only add to gridlock and overcrowded schools. The free rider problem sucks if you’re on the wrong end of it after all.

    Planners, developers, and town officials may say Chapel Hill is unique, hip and a “desirable” place to live when they travel to “sister” cities. But I don’t see it. To me, Chapel Hill is becoming the wannabe Ann Arbor, Portlandia or Berkeley of the south (and I do mean to use a small “s”). Just another booming one party town with hipster aspirations happy to eat its seed corn.

  10. Nancy

     /  January 30, 2015

    For me, quality of life is linked to diversity. One of my concerns when we moved to Chapel Hill from New York was that we’d be moving to a Southern version of the town I grew up in in Iowa, where, not that we were all the same, but we kind of were. I left there as a teenager and moved to Manhattan, where I was thrilled to find so many people who were different from me, different races, ethnicities, and family wealth or poverty, spoke different languages, ate different food, held different world views and had life stories I couldn’t have imagined. I wanted my children to grow up understanding how big the world really is.

    Chapel Hill didn’t have that kind of richness, but I did meet some very interesting people. Many had come here from somewhere else in the world. Even the natives were a little exotic. I found a community that welcomed me and my different-ness.

    But in recent years, the town has become more homogeneous. I see that as a detriment.

  11. Bruce Springsteen

     /  February 1, 2015

    Note the inherent tension between the subject matter in this thread and some other things that are now and then topics of local political discussion. For example, sometimes there is talk of how we make the area more affordable or lessen dependence on cars or increase diversity, etc. And then there is this thread of how to increase QOL.

    But if someone suggests a change that will increase their own QOL it won’t necessarily help and it may even hurt as far as achieving those other broader goals we sometimes talk about. The most obvious example that jumps out at me is how everyone wants to look out their window and see green rather than buildings and roads and cars and yet everyone wants society to be less dependent on cars. Those two are mutually exclusive.