Are more and more people insisting on talking to you about your comfort? Are they offering you nature walks, meditation, yoga workshops…? You are not alone
After having lived through a coronavirus pandemic, a ‘wellness pandemic' doesn't sound bad at all. It may seem curious and contradictory, but it is a concept that is spreading as reported by ‘Science Alert‘: in the media, in government institutions or workplaces. And it can generate genuine discomfort, due to the term being exploited.
Do you feel that there is more and more talk about your well-being, from insurance companies, managers, etc.? Are there more products and advertisements promising that you will have greater well-being through consumption? You are not alone.
But we must also ask ourselves if this obsession with wellness is having the opposite of the desired effect. To understand why, it is important to look at the origins, politics and complexities of wellness, including its strategic deployment in the process of what we call “welfare washing.” And it is true that concerns about it go back to antiquity, but it has never mattered as much as it does today.
One explanation is that it is often conflated with concepts as diverse as happiness, quality of life, contentment, human flourishing or mindfulness. While well-being is undoubtedly flexible and can fit into a wide range of contexts, it is also surrounded by a kind of halo, automatically endowed with a positive meaning, similar to concepts such as motherhood, democracy, freedom and liberty.
It is often combined with concepts as diverse as happiness, quality of life, contentment, human flourishing or mindfulness.
These days, there are two main concepts of well-being. The first, (subjective well-being) emphasizes a holistic measure of an individual's mental, physical and spiritual health. This perspective is perhaps best reflected in the World Health Organization's WHO-5 Index, designed in 1998 to measure people's subjective well-being according to five states: joy, calm, vigor, rest and contentment.
But the validity of the index and others like it has been questioned. They are prone to oversimplification and tend to marginalize alternative perspectives, including indigenous approaches to physical and mental health.
The second perspective, objective well-being, was a response to growing social inequality. It focuses on providing an alternative to GDP as a measure of overall national prosperity. An example of this is the New Zealand Living Standards Framework, which is guided by four operating principles: distribution, resilience, productivity and sustainability. These new and supposedly more progressive measures of national economic and social performance signal social change, optimism and hope.
The danger is that such initiatives now constitute another semi-obligatory work task, in that non-participation could lead to stigmatization. This only increases stress
Arguably, this translates into more control and “discipline” of personal actions and activities. Intentionally or not, many organizations interpret and use wellness principles and policies to reinforce existing structures and hierarchies. Perhaps you've noticed it in your work, seeing it in the growth of new departments or the emergence of a working committee, perhaps even with workshops related to health and wellness. You've probably even noticed the creation of dedicated wellness ‘coaches': those offering yoga, meditation, nature walks and the like.
The danger is that such initiatives now constitute another semi-compulsory work task, insofar as non-participation could lead to stigmatization. This only increases stress and, indeed, discomfort. Ultimately, welfare now constitutes a “power field”; not a neutral territory, but a place where parties promote their own interests, often at the expense of others.
For if welfare is becoming a pandemic, we may need the “vaccine” of critical reflection.