measuring the balance of human life

Can we measure the balance of human life? Perhaps not with 100% confidence, but we can certainly think about the factors contributing to the state of the system at any moment in time and see where the scale might be tipped.


As students, we learn about the critical role of balance in science, economics, politics, art, and every other subject. Think about chemical equilibrium, energy conservation, supply and demand, political checks and balances, atomic neutrality, mathematical parity, and artistic symmetry. As individuals, we constantly stress the need for a balance in our personal lives. Think about work and family, business and pleasure, excitement and relaxation. Physical components such as those in the first list are measurable, giving us the ability to understand, track, and predict the state of the system. On the other hand, the second list is quite abstract and is mostly qualified by our own personal well-being, the well being of those around us, and the influence on our surroundings as a whole.

So how close can we get to measuring the balance of our personal well being? Let’s run with Ockham’s Razor and try and make it as simple as possible. Consider this statement: the optimal balance of life is when what you take from it is equal to what you give to it. What does that look like?

What You Give
Contributing Factors: Advice, Assistance, Business Opportunity, Care, Directions, Donations, Empathy, Feedback, Friendship, Guidance, Hard Work, Philosophical Thought, Prayer, Product Innovation, …

Notes: It’s all good. There is an infinite amount of mechanisms by which you can give to society, environment, others, and life in general.

What You Take
Contributing Factors: Awareness, Consumption, Control, Crime, Emissions, Faith, Goods, Greed, Growth, Land, New Ideas, Pain, Reflection, Self-Satisfaction, Understanding, Vacations, Waste, …

Notes: There are many bad ones here, but some are obviously necessary and should take the majority of the weight, such as awareness, reflection, and understanding.


Units of Measurement: There are concrete and abstract units through which we might measure what we give and what we take.
–Money – Something upon which we are all dependent.
–Time – Something by which we are all bound even though it is out of our control.
–Text, Speech, and Emotions – Can we measure the impact of our words by the resulting sentiment of readers and listeners?
–Acquaintances, Friends, Colleagues, Contacts, Followers – For certain personality types, does the size of an audience have any relevance?
–Quality of Life Factors (Ambition, Happiness, Health, Life Expectancy, Strength, Well-Being) – The toughest to measure, but the most important to global well-being.
–Dreams – Can you measure balance in life by analyzing what your dreams are about?

Deviations from Zero & Tipping the Scale: What does imbalance mean?
–Positive Case – If we give more than we take, we are left with an internal hole. Perhaps we are absent of understanding or self-awareness, or of our purpose in the world.
–Negative Case – If we take more than we give, our impact is diminished and it leaves our surroundings with less to gain.

Collective Balance: Perhaps balance is not to be determined at the individual level but at the level of societal groups and organizations.
–Family – Does your family collectively balance the give and take of life? Is your family happy, stable, and sufficiently contributing to the well-being of other families?
–Work – Does your work collectively balance the give and take of life? Does it contribute to the well-being of society as much as it takes for business growth and distributable profits?


Balance is important. We know that. But perhaps because it’s difficult to measure, the real importance falls on understanding the contributing factors to the state of the system. Like a Jenga tower, pulling pieces must still keep the tower standing.

Finally, we must think about at which organizational level we can best understand balance in human life, and where the ideal equilibrium should exist. By breaking it into its simplest components and visualizing harmony, hopefully that’s exactly what will result.

“Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.” – Thomas Merton