Did you ever feel like missing out on something because you relaxed for a day instead of ticking another top 10 to do off? Or feared the consequences of having indulged in a street food orgy instead of sticking to your low carb gluten free diet?
Well, I have. I have always compared. And cared a lot for what I thought was the perfect way of doing things, as well as perfect health. I have struggled to balance on the fine line between my personal identity and feeling good with myself, and what was generally expected to be the “right” lifestyle. Or what I thought was expected. But actually is total bullshit.
Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness
The general striving for happiness has long become an ambivalent ideology. Well. Actually we could have optimized ourselves already to our best versions: happy, healthy and productive. We might pursue different lifestyles, some settle for a steady job, some go out there and find the idea of settling utterly strange. But still, in every of these micro-societies, there are standards and pretty pictures of how it should look like. May it be wearing the perfect outfit on the beach for that instagram picture, or liters of green smoothies and countless morning yoga routines and yet another app to track our daily activity goal. We could even learn how to celebrate the completing of an excel table in the next mindfulness course.
And from the outset, there’s nothing wrong to try to optimize ourselves, to pack that fancy dress and obediently follow the must-do’s of our idols, to drink puréed veggie-mash, to contort in new yoga poses or to meticulously monitor our body functions. However it is wrong, I think, when people are told to maximize their well-being. Especially when this demand is not evolving personally, from within, but comes from companies, universities, media and authorities.
Western Society Suffers from a Wellness-Syndrome
Striving for happiness and health has become an ideology. It has turned into a moral obligation of our time. Across many different social groups; students, employees, travelers. Within the last year, for a few months each, I have been a full-time member of each of these groups. And been confronted with those ideologies repeatedly.
Students sign contracts to commit to an alcohol and drug free life. People are being told that ultimate happiness comes from traveling. Employee’s eating and sleeping habits are analyzed by a software and are getting offered coaching if there’s space to improve their lifestyle. Some American hospitals even let future employees send in urine tests, since they don’t hire smokers anymore. And those top ten travel instagram accounts draw a pretty perfect picture, that I really don’t see in my friend’s or my own traveler’s daily life.
Such examples make clear that this wellness idea, that often seems to be a well-meant “offer”, intervenes with personal freedom and dictates a private lifestyle.
Empowerment or Social Control?
Some of those trend and techniques might at first sound empowering. They transport a feeling of ability to change fate with one’s own power. However, this empowerment doesn’t come without downside. If we believe that we only have to work hard enough on ourselves and to strictly follow what is told to be good for us, to eventually be happy and successful, that also means: Who fails, hasn’t pushed him- or herself enough and thus is the one to blame. That unemployment could be traced back to structural reasons no single person has influence on, turns out of focus. That being ripped-off in a foreign country is all but you being naive instead of proof of an entire contorted relationship between tourists and locals. That not passing that exam is due to lack of studying, and not too much pressure put on students these days.
If we just circle ourselves and our own insufficiency, we don’t notice the “illness of the world” anymore.
This is a plea against the desolidarization of society: I’m creeped out by the narcissistic, cold coexistence, in which the individual only obsessively deals with his or her own well-being. A society that still functions as survival of the fittest and in which the responsibility for the good life is individualized.
Yeah, we know that a time-out, yoga and that daily apple are healthy. But so is social support, teamwork, and fighting together for a collective, more universal well-being. No matter who you are.