Measuring a life

| Staff Columnist

The Princeton Review recently ranked Washington University as fourth in a category entitled “Quality of Life.” Rice took first, followed by Bowdoin, and then Claremont McKenna. This ranking is based on students’ responses to questions about food, the campus, the local area, student interaction, friendliness and happiness. So basically, the Princeton Review aggregated all of their other statistics to estimate the quality of life.

While it is impossible to rank someone’s quality of life, it is possible to approximate. We know that someone who does not need to worry about where his next meal is coming from has a better life than someone who does need to worry. Once people have shelter, food, water and safety, we must look at harder to quantify areas. This is where the approximating comes in.

With physical needs met, relationships, esteem, love and self-actualization must be considered. If this sounds familiar to you, it’s because Abraham Maslow thought this system up in the 1950s. He outlined a hierarchy of needs with the physical—food, drink, sleep—at the bottom and, at the peak, self-actualization. Self-actualization is doing what you were born to do. For example, writers write, teachers teach and directors direct. When all of these needs have been met, your quality of life is the best it can be.

How do you measure someone’s progress to self-actualization? Doing so requires knowing what the person was born to do and how close they are to achieving it. We cannot measure this for ourselves, let alone for those around us. However, we can estimate the quality of someone’s friendships, love life and esteem through questionnaires. Using these, we can extrapolate how near someone is to self-actualization, but extrapolation is inherently inaccurate. Effectively, we must take that quality-of-life ranking with a large grain of salt.

Self-actualization is the something missing when nothing else is missing. The need for self-actualization makes otherwise-comfortable people restless. College is the time for this restlessness, as all of our other needs are best served by the academic environment. All of our physical needs are provided for, and the needs of belonging, love, affection and esteem can be easily satiated. You can knock out at least two of the four by simply joining a fraternity or sorority. Freshmen Resident Advisors’ jobs include making sure these needs are being met.

At no other time in our life will we live surrounded by people our own age, all working towards similar goals. Now is the time when all of our friends are no further than a walk. Taking advantage of all of these privileges to work on our last need makes sense.

Finding out what we were born to do and doing it is a tall order, but it only gets harder when we have other commitments—jobs, families. When we finish college, our good friends may be too far away or too busy to have those conversations that make us reevaluate how we see the world. College is the time for restlessness—at the very least, we can observe this from most people changing their major at least once (especially if they come in as a BME at Wash. U.).

In changing a major, we gain the experience of having tried something. It seems that the best way to find out what we were born to do is to do it. So go for it. Try new things, but more importantly, meet new people. Wash. U. prides itself on its diversity of race, but diversity of thought is what is most needed.

We are truly privileged to be at Wash. U. Resources to improve our quality of life surround us. St. Louis is a Metro ride away. The Loop is a short walk or shorter bike ride. Olin library is in the center of campus. Your new friends are down the hall. Be restless and go for a trip.

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