A Quality Life, Part 2

Numbers are important, but it’s easy to mix up quantity and quality — especially when it comes to quality of life. The quality of our lives is partly determined by our own values and preferences, our sensitivity and the disciplines we pursue.

This part 2 of my earlier post, “A Quality Life, Part 1”.

Tricked by Quantity

Our culture seems to me to be comfortable with numbers. This is important. We need to know how strong a bridge is or how many cars a road can safely carry.

The problem is that we can be tricked by quantity — we can think that it is quality. The most common example of this is income level. It is presumed that higher pay means a greater quality of life or enjoyment. This is flat out wrong. Wealthy business people are usually not beaming with joy. Expensive watches don’t necessarily tell the time better than quite cheap watches. People do not choose their work based only on the possible income (thankfully, or we’d have few nurses or carers or teachers). How many people choose to be parents because it is a paying proposition?

We Want Quality (in our) Lives

The trick with the quantity of money is presuming that it can buy us a quality life. It can buy us quality objects, but life isn’t for sale.

The quality of our lives is partly determined by our own values and preferences, our sensitivity and the disciplines we pursue. Appreciating good food may mean buying from farmers’ markets rather than supermarkets, but it doesn’t necessarily mean eating at a restaurant. With some work, we can learn to turn out meals better than mid-range restaurants for a fraction of the price. And we benefit in many ways that we certainly wouldn’t if we just ate out.

Improving the Quality of Our Lives

It is possible to improve the quality of our lives. This will usually begin with our being conscious of some kind of discontentment or lack, then moving on to some kind of remedy for this. For example, I may want to enjoy music more. To do this may mean listening to the radio or CDs, going to concerts, taking courses, reading books, or learning to sing or play an instrument. It could be any aspect of life: physical movement, visual, spatial, the design of objects, our relationships or work style, our emotions or thinking; literally anything.

How do we go about this in more detail? I think the process in each case is similar.

We have some desire or discontentment. We begin by paying attention. We learn more about what it is. We engage with it. We find out what we can do and what is satisfying or not. Here are a couple of examples of this process.

Example 1: Sculpture
I feel that I have been stuck in my head and want to make stuff with my hands. I want to be able to shape stuff and see the result. I choose clay rather than steel or glass because with clay I am using my hands more directly. I investigate what can be done on the wheel and without using the wheel. I try out different types of clay and making different sorts of objects. I learn about what different kinds of clay suit particular purposes. I reach a point where I know what I want to do with clay — make extraordinarily beautiful tableware that will enrich people’s experience every time they eat from it. I find this deeply satisfying.
Example 2: Relationships
I am very happy with my work, my income is secure, my house is paid off; and yet I discover that I have few friends. I wonder why this is. Did I have more friends before? Did I lose them at a particular time, or have I never had friends? I start observing those who do have friends — how they spend their time, how they speak and relate to others. I discover that I don’t want lots of friends but a few intense and close friends. I learn that I will need to be willing to share my heart and I practise doing this. I learn that being able to listen and stay separate leads to deeper relationships. Over time I develop a few close friendships; I am much happier than I was and realise that I still have a lot to learn.

Are you conscious of a desire for quality, or does this sound fanciful to you? What quality would you desire more of in your life? I’d love to hear in the comments.

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