March 17, 2011

Quality of Life

Over the years, when faced with a decision about how I want to live or how I want to raise my family, I have learned to ask myself a question.  The question I ask myself gives me clarity and helps me choose which option is the best. 

The question is:  "Will this choice add to my/our quality of life?"

This was a question I asked when my family first moved to the Long Beach area three years ago.  When we began looking for a place to live, it was important to me that it be within walking distance of where I worked.

In southern California, the conventional wisdom is that you work where the work is, and you live where you can get the best deal on a home.  (The "best deal" is defined as the most property, square-footage, and amenities that your money can buy.)  If you have to commute an hour a day between work and home, so be it.  That's the price one pays.

Well, it's not a price I was willing to pay.  It didn't seem worth it to me to have the nicest home and the best job possible if that meant spending an hour a day (245 hours per year) in traffic.  A commute like that costs $1,500 in gas per year at four dollars per gallon, which is the current cost for gas here and, coincidentally, the cost when I moved here three years ago.  That cost does not include the cost of insurance and maintenance, both of which would be substantially higher given the extra driving miles, not to mention the aggravation of dealing with traffic every day.  It also does not include the cost that we all pay by having more auto exhaust and pollution in our skies and in our lungs

For me, quality of life is also improved when I work and live in the same community.  It makes it easier to get to know one's neighbors.  Also, with two kids in school, it's so nice to be just a few blocks away from them during the day.  I can't imagine how much more complicated it would be to, say, pick up a sick kid from school or arrange for a parent/teacher conference if I wasn't so close.

We are a one-car family.  There are days when having a second car would be helpful, especially now that my wife is enrolled in a master's degree program at a school that is not walking distance, taking evening classes.  However, the cost of the car, not to mention the extra insurance, registratin, maintenance, and four dollar gas, isn't worth it to me.  It is also not worth it to me that our country sends servicemen and servicewomen into harm's way just so I can have a steady supply of cheap gasoline.  The obscene amount of resources our nation spends on the military comes at the expense of other programs and services.  Our military is increasingly being used to protect our economy but not necessarily our security.  This also does not add to my quality of life.

With only one car, we find ourselves walking and riding our bikes more.  Although my kids complain when I pick them up from school without a car, our walks home provide the best conversation of our day.  Often they are our only real conversations of the day.  How much quality of life would I be sacrificing if I drove them home, only to see them disappear into their video games (after finishing their homework, of course)?

Speaking of video games:  I guess no one is perfect.  A little over a year ago, against my better judgment, we got a Wii.  With proper limits, video games are fine, but have you ever tried setting limits for a thirteen year-old?  An endless refrain of "That's not fair!" reverberates off the walls and out into the streets.  And yet, when this same thirteen year-old plays outside, sits on the floor with his Legos, or reads a good book, he is just as happy - and often happier - then he is playing video games that are almost always designed in such a way that winning is nearly impossible.  This only adds to a teenager's sense of frustration and low self-esteem.

What big decisions are you facing right now?  A major purchase, a decision about where to live/work, or a choice about how to use your time?  Are you able to toss conventional wisdom aside, and see which choice will bring lasting happiness?  Can you determine which choice will add to - rather than subtract from - your quality of life?

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