Why Healthy Isn’t That Healthy (The Wellness Syndrome Book Summary)

What’s it about?

The Wellness Syndrome (2015) describes why a health craze that’s sweeping the world may not be all that healthy for you. This summary gets to the root of why we’re plagued with making ourselves happier, healthier, and harder-working – and who is receiving the benefits of this obsession.

About the author:

Carl Cederström is an associate professor of organization theory at Stockholm University. His work has been published in the Guardian, the New York Times, and the Harvard Business Review.

André Spicer is a leading thinker on subjects such as organizational behavior, leadership, and corporate responsibility. He is a professor of organizational behavior at Cass Business School at City, University of London and the founding director of ETHOS: The Center for Responsible Enterprise at the University.

Wellness has become an ideology restricting people’s freedom of thought and conduct:

People regard wellness to be a lifelong pursuit. These people withstand “unhealthy” temptations, such as eating fatty pork chops or smoking cigarettes, in order to stay on track. They go to a Pilates class every day and get pampered at a lovely spa once in a while.

What’s wrong with eating well and exercising regularly? First, we must recognize that “wellness” entails more than just exercising frequently and eating a healthy diet. Wellness is a philosophy that asserts that a healthy body is required for success and true happiness.

This manner of thinking represents a massive shift in society. People believed you were arrogant and shallow if you cared about your appearance and health years ago. Today’s health movement emphasizes the need to have a fat-free, fit body and a clear, competent mind to succeed in all aspects of life.

The problem is that blindly following such an ideology can restrict your freedom of thinking and cause you to lose out on key experiences. The wellness ideology is based on limited thinking that focuses solely on health and forbids various activities, including drinking and smoking. Such actions were once seen not only as enjoyable but also as crucial rites of passage in society.

Upon admission, several American colleges now ask students to sign a wellness contract. Students swear to refrain from alcohol and cigarettes and commit to a healthy lifestyle.

On the other hand, these students will surely miss out on the formative experiences that formerly inspired society’s finest thinkers. While at school, French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre famously had coffee, cigarettes, and alcohol, with his circle of friends discussing absurdity and revolution. Such encounters were mind-blowing! Students of philosophy nowadays who are driven to follow wellness ideals may miss out.

Fit and healthy are “good,” whereas fat is “bad.” Healthy living is now associated with morals in society:

So it’s evident that being health-obsessed isn’t good for you. Shouldn’t this, at the very least, put an end to people assessing a person’s character solely based on their outward appearance?

Well, not quite. People now have a moral need to be both healthy and happy, according to society. This has been named biomorality by Slovenian philosopher Alenka Zupani, who believes that people must take care of their bodies because failing to do so implies that they are ignorant or reckless. It’s a moral distinction: healthy individuals who care for their bodies are good people, while unhealthy ones are bad.

People who are obese are sometimes perceived as sluggish or as not working hard enough, if at all, to enhance their health. Obese people are avoiding their moral and societal obligations in this way. This inclination to associate “fat” with “bad” and “healthy” with “good” has been exploited by television. Jamie Oliver, an English chef, hosts a show called “Jamie’s School Dinners,” He criticizes schoolchildren’s poor eating habits. The show scolded parents for allowing their children to eat potato chips and fizzy beverages at school.

While it is true that allowing children to eat processed foods is unhealthy, Oliver uses his show to punish delinquent parents, accusing them of being unconcerned about their children’s health and wellbeing – an unfair judgment, given Oliver makes no mention of a family’s income or social condition.

Similarly, smoking has become a new criterion for determining a person’s social morality. Smokers are perceived to be more “dumb” and “selfish” than nonsmokers.

The essential point is that biomorality has caused us to center all of our emphasis on the physical body, socially shaming people into maintaining a healthy lifestyle and, as a result, keeping them busy with diets and gimmicks to avoid questioning the ethical assumptions that underlie such pursuits.

It’s a never-ending revolving door. The pursuit of the ideal body is never-ending, and you can always “do better.” The irony is that by aiming for unattainable goals to be on the “good” path, we likely wind up with less time to connect with others. This may help us identify what makes our friends’ moral upstanding, such as helpful or kind.

The strain of wellness might make you feel restless or guilty, causing you to overwork:

Wellness is a philosophy that contradicts itself, when we strive to obey its ideals in order to “feel better,” our pursuit for wellness can actually make us feel worse.

We put a lot of strain on ourselves to eat right and exercise regularly in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle. This stress builds up, leaving us feeling guilty and blaming ourselves whenever we “cheat” by eating unhealthy foods or skipping workouts.

Having a cookie becomes a criminal act when being “healthy” equals being “good,” causing resentment and self-hatred. Worse, it can be frustrating to try to hide your apparent moral failure from others. For example, if you’re feeling guilty about stopping a diet, you might avoid social situations to hide the extra weight you’ve put on as a byproduct.

As we adhere to such a judgmental doctrine, we overwork ourselves and get stressed when we fail. We equate our happiness and success with our ability to stick to rigorous fitness regimens, even after a long, tiring day at work.

Failure is unavoidable in such a system. Your body will eventually demand that you take a break! Wellness enthusiasts may grow anxious when this happens, as this failure will inevitably lead to more losses, and a good life will stay elusive. This creates a vicious cycle, draining your energy and leaving you less competent in achieving your goals, which causes you to feel more nervous.

Some individuals try to overcome tiredness by doing even more — spending all of their leisure time at the gym and their hard-earned money on life coaches. In this way, the wellness philosophy goes against our natural need to relax and luxuriate once in a while.

Wellness is a tool used by businesses to push responsibilities on employees and motivate them to work more:

Most large corporations now provide classes to their staff on how to relax or quit smoking. Many companies have also established private gyms for their employees. Such thoughtful gestures are admired; after all, who doesn’t want a supervisor that genuinely cares about their employees’ wellbeing? However, there is a downside to workplace wellness.

Wellness programs perpetuate the notion that you are solely responsible for your health, happiness, and success at work. Working long hours for low pay while fearing being fired at any instant is not good for your health. On the other hand, employees may prosper in any situation if they stay positive, lead a healthy life, and know how to relax, according to the wellness philosophy.

For example, Google provides mindfulness training to its employees, which is very popular. By concentrating on the current moment and breathing, employees learn to relax. This practice is designed to assist employees in dealing with stressful events that may emerge at work or in their daily lives.

While being attentive can be beneficial in everyday life, it also implies that each individual is responsible for managing potentially challenging tasks; a hectic schedule isn’t to blame for employee stress.

Furthermore, a healthy culture can foster rivalry among employees, ensuring that everyone puts in the maximum amount of effort. Wellness tells us that if we improve our brains and bodies, we can do anything – definitely more helpful to a corporation than strained employees.

These habits are bolstered by health apps that encourage consumers to track their progress and compare with others.

Politicians have exploited wellness as a justification for reducing welfare and other social benefits:

A vital political instrument is a wellness philosophy, especially for politicians who need to deflect or distract people from one issue to another.

Wellness is, after all, a spiritual journey for health, happiness, and personal wellbeing. Politics, on the other hand, necessitates collective thought in order to change a country’s situation.

While the health movement may not appear overtly political on the surface, it might fulfill a political purpose by diverting middle-class eyes away from societal issues. Politicians can operate without fear of backlash from people preoccupied with personal problems.

The wellness concept has a significant political impact in justifying welfare reductions.

Both Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister, and Bill Clinton, the US President, drove through substantial welfare reforms in the 1990s, alleging that people who anticipated money from the government would become lazy and quit looking for employment.

Such debates are inextricably linked to the wellness philosophy. Politicians in this country were holding people accountable for their successes and failings, despite economic circumstances.

So, if a person loses his job and is unable to find work, the wellness doctrine claims that it is the individual’s blame for having the wrong mentality, not the problem of the employment market. Perhaps the person didn’t care enough about the profession or lacked the stamina to put more effort.

Those already working and financially secure joined into this mindset, while the unemployed and poor were seen as a lazy class. Consequently, people have been hesitant to assist people less fortunate or speak out against government policies on their behalf.

So, while the wellness obsession may motivate individuals to be healthy, it actually splits society and normalizes inequalities.

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