Last updated: November 12, 2012 8:05 pm
More work, less play: quality of life Canada on the decline according to study
NORTH VANCOUVER (CUP) — Despite Canada’s relatively graceful recovery from the worldwide economic meltdown of 2008, the quality of life Canadians experience is on the decline.
According to the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW), a study conducted in conjunction with the University of Waterloo, Canadians’ quality of life plummeted by 24 per cent between 2008 and 2010.
Based on CIW findings, the culprit is an excessive focus on the economy and issues related to it.
“In a society that is preoccupied with the economy and working hard, among the first casualties are those things that ironically matter to us the most,” said Bryan Smale, director of the CIW. “We forget to protect time for family and friends, and to enjoy those pursuits that bring meaning to our lives.
"We want to bring some balance to the conversation by reminding people that a good life includes those things that too many people regard as being less important than work and making money.”
The correlation between wellbeing and economics has been demonstrated by earlier CIW studies. From 1994 to 2008, Canadian wellbeing — as measured by the CIW — rose by 7.5 per cent. In the aftermath of the economic crisis, and Canada’s subsequent recovery, that number dropped by 5.7 per cent in just a two-year period.
“The concern then, and even more so now, was that policy was being driven primarily by a concern with the economy and little else,” Smale went on to say. “Our concern was that Canadians’ wellbeing was suffering because we were not attending to other aspects of our lives that contributed to quality of life. Certainly, the economy matters, but [not] to the exclusion of everything else that makes our lives worthwhile.”
Canadian quality of life has primarily taken a hit in the broader areas of environment, time use, leisure and culture, though Smale explains that the CIW is based on 64 specific indicators.
“Among the indicators that showed the greatest declines were such things as: fewer social contacts, worsening green gas emissions, a larger ecological footprint, an increase in the percentage of people with diabetes, continuing declines in visitation to our national parks and historic sites,” Smale said.
“Less volunteering for culture and recreation organizations, less time spent in social leisure, reduced economic security, increased long-term unemployment, longer commute times, and perhaps most troubling, [a] growing income gap between rich and poor.”
In Smale’s opinion, that income gap and reduction of the middle class is where the problem lies.
“The growth in an economy is not necessarily a bad thing, but the increasing income disparity, with those at the lower end stagnating and the middle class shrinking, that seems to be accompanying this period of slow recovery is jeopardizing other aspects of our lives,” he said. “Adherents to ‘trickle-down’ economics have failed to produce any evidence that the wealth generated at the top of society has benefited those at the bottom.”
While it might seem that an economic recovery would increase social engagement, leisure time and cultural participation, the solution is not that simple unless “that recovery creates more opportunity for everyone.”
“The wellbeing associated with engagement in leisure and cultural pursuits does not simply require having sufficient funds to purchase recreational products and services,” said Smale.
“There must be the will among policy makers to ensure that such opportunities are available to all and that economic pressures do not bring about the decline of leisure, recreation, arts and cultural services, programs and other opportunities. It is through our social relationships in leisure, our time spent in meaningful pursuits, and our enjoyment of the people and the world around us that enrich our lives, bring us closer together, and defines our humanity, that matter.”
It’s important to understand that the CIW’s definition of wellbeing does not equate to general public happiness.
“Quality of life — or wellbeing — is a broader concept that includes both those things that are internal to us like our health, happiness and life satisfaction, as well as those things that are external to us that affect our quality of life, such as our social relationships, our environment, our communities and access to opportunities to enhance our lives,” said Smale. “Happiness is really linked to just emotion and general life satisfaction, although many others treat it as equivalent to wellbeing, perhaps because it is a more familiar concept to people.”
Smale emphasizes, “Happiness is about emotion, whereas wellbeing is about flourishing in our lives.”