Wellness Reductionism

Let’s begin with a subtle distinction between terms that are often conflated; well-being vs. wellness. I proposed a definition of well-being in a previous post. In short, it’s the sense of fulfilment, satisfaction, happiness, or alignment that we all seek. Wellness refers to the things we do to move toward well-being.

This is important to recognize, as there is an inherent conflict between the holistic and individualized context of well-being and the piecemeal wellness products we are sold.

The Wellness industry, like all others, exists to make money. The Global Wellness Institute estimated a market size of $4.2 trillion in 2017. The industry is overwhelmingly concentrated on nutrition (weight loss), fitness (gym memberships/subscriptions), and aesthetics (spa/anti-aging). Throw in some mind-body (yoga/retreats) for good measure.

The marketing is simple and effective: buy our stuff – feel better. And buy it we do. The trouble is that we don’t stop to think, during our hurried lives, that these wellness products are extrinsic, while the well-being we truly seek is intrinsic.

The Wellness industry applies a reductionist approach because it is profitable. It focuses on things we can change with products: what we eat, when and how we exercise, what we wear, etc. While optimizing these can improve our health, they do not address the foundations of our well-being, including our values, goals, purpose, self-identity, expectations, relationships, and more. This is the inner work, unique for each of us. Even harder to accept is that there is no quick fix on offer.

The pursuit of well-being is common to all of us. Our feelings about whether we are, or are not, achieving it form the essence of the human experience. What an incredible opportunity to explore and share our storied paths. The journey begins with awareness; awareness that our well-being cannot be purchased in shiny wellness packaging. Do the inner work. See the products for what they are. It might not be obvious at first, but you are the only one who knows what you need.

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