Wellness and wellbeing: A target or a trap?

Wellness and wellbeing!

These are current buzz words.

Yet, it’s important to remember words have power and influence.

With all this focus on wellness and wellbeing

we are left to wonder if such a focus is really good for us?

These days there is such a focus on wellness and well-being. And, this seems particularly so as we age. Indeed, we are often reminded how much the aging population is costing the community.

We are encouraged in subtle (and not so subtle ways) to be well. Not only are we encouraged to be well, we are encouraged to strive to be super well. If we achieve this ultimate state of wellness, than it would seem, no form of ill health is possible.

Of course, this is a fallacy.

Recently we were travelling along the Stuart Highway, between Tennant Creek and Alice Springs,  in the Northern Territory. If any of you have travelled this highway you will know it can be boring at times. Anyway, we were lucky enough to be able to listen Life Matters on ABC Radio. Professor Andre Spicer was the guest, and he spoke about the Wellness Syndrome. This program struck a cord. I found so many of the comments resonated with me. And it got me thinking about wellness and wellbeing even more.

If we think about it, the term wellness, and certainly wellbeing, were not words that were commonly used in everyday language. Somehow these words have slipped up the popular culture scale in more recent years.

I’m not sure when this happened? Perhaps it began with Jane Fonda’s phenomenal success with physical fitness. Not that I’m blaming Jane Fonda! But a world wide craze began. The focus on being fit and healthy became a dominant thought; an ideal to strive for. Out of this came a whole fitness industry. And, perhaps an anti aging industry as well.

These days the term wellness encompasses the ideals of health and happiness. Today the message seems to be if you’re healthy, than you will be happy. Whereas, being unhealthy will lead to being unhappy.

How did this occur? Is it possible there is a wellbeing industry promoting such messages?

Today, we are bombarded with messages about wellness, wellbeing, health and happiness. Yet, we also hear obesity, diabetes, mental illness etc are all on the increase. How is that so? It doesn’t seem to add up.

There is no doubt that we are exposed to lots of messages about health and happiness.  We are encouraged to engage in regular practices and rituals, aiming to hopefully achieve this desired state of wellbeing.

Wellness and wellbeing: A target or a trap
Bushwalking on the Yardi Creek Walk Trail, North West Cape, Western Australia.

Those who adhere to the standards can talk proudly about how well they are doing. Measurements back up their claim about how healthy they are. For instance, distances walked, weight lost, muscle gained etc. People may happily talk about their success, about how “well” they are doing.

But, what happens if we fall off the band wagon, and fail to maintain the regular practices and rituals. What if we join a gym, but FAIL to go? Or, what if we go on a diet, then eat the lovely cream cake? Or, you do everything, and you don’t feel happy?

The risk then is that we begin self monitoring and judging ourselves. We monitor ourselves in term of being a “good” person or a “bad” person. At the very least we can experience a sense of being naughty, if we don’t do as expected. This can result in attempts to redeem ourselves, to make it all good again. For instance, we might not eat tea because we ate the cream bun (or  perhaps damper with butter, as pictured).

Wellness and Wellbeing: A target or a trap?
Freshly baked Damper from the fire pit. With butter please!

The focus on wellness and wellbeing can then backfire on us. Worry and guilt can slip into our lives. We can worry that we’re not doing well enough (in whatever) and this can result in us being very unhappy with ourselves. We can experience guilt about what we did or didn’t do.

And what if we become ill? Is this our fault? I can hear some of you say, well perhaps it is. But, this individual focus looses the broader societal and cultural influences. Nothing is in isolation.

To me, the wellness culture seems to be now linked to the anti aging culture. The dominant thought promoted seems to be – if you are healthy and well, you remain young?

What do the wellness and ant aging cultures mean for us as we age?

Is there an expectation that we won’t age, we won’t become ill? That, if we do the RIGHT thing, in the RIGHT way, we will achieve the RIGHT results – wellbeing, health and happiness.

Nevertheless, I think it helps to remember that buzz words are very often promoting something or someone. Usually buzz words promote a product. Words such as wellness and wellbeing are used to promote many products, particularly anything related to health and fitness industries. Perhaps we may benefit  by stepping back and thinking is anyone trying to sell me something? Or, reflecting and then rejuvenating our thinking about what we want wellness and wellbeing to mean for us.

As with all things, I think everything is best in moderation.

Yes, I strive to be healthy. Yes, I strive to be happy. But where is the focus on acceptance? Where is the focus the “normal” aging process? And where is the focus on it’s OK to age? Or even, it’s OK to feel down some days. We can’t be happy and healthy all the time. Or can we?

What about you?

What are your thoughts about the wellness, wellbeing, health and happiness? Do you think the wellness and anti aging culture influence people as they age? Have you been caught up in trying to do the RIGHT thing yet left feeling wanting and not good enough? What are your thoughts about keeping things in balance? Have you any suggestions on this topic? Please join in the discussion below.

Best wishes from Estelle –

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