Wellness isn’t always schmellness

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As we push the rose-coloured glasses down the bridge of our nose and start looking through a clearer lens, it’s important to remember: there may be little good tucked away in the idea of wellness, but what is good can be lifechanging for the people who need it most.

I’m humbled to announce….

Have you noticed that people who start posts with this phrase never actually are humble? Ever. The post invariably goes on to completely contradict the opening by unashamedly bragging. 

Anyway, whatever, I’m humbled to announce that I’ve just finished a book! 

No, I haven’t written one. I just read one over the past couple of weeks that I found at a friend’s holiday house. It doesn’t matter what it’s about. This isn’t a book review. But it got me thinking about why I haven’t been reading for a while. Maybe over a year. I think I know why. It’s because I haven’t been able to fly anywhere. Most of my reading throughout my adult life has been done on planes. I’ve read a lot because I’ve flown a lot – I love nothing more than climbing through the clouds and curling up in my seat with a book.

It’s not just reading a book that I love. It’s buying books too – looking through city and airport book shops around the world. It’s like going hunting, finding the right book. I’ve spent a good percentage of my life inside book shops. The process is invigorating.

There’s risk involved – coming out with no book is bad, but that’s not the worst result. Buying the wrong book – a boring one that can’t be read – is the worst.

What are the odds of getting it right?

Pretty low. There are maybe 20,000 books in the average bookstore. How many of those am I likely to enjoy at any given moment? Maybe 20. That’s one in 1000. Sounds like long odds but by the time you eliminate the entire topics and categories then you can narrow it down. Either way, it’s still risky.

I’d identify as someone who loves books. The knowledge, the possibility. The chance to immerse myself in a different world or time. The opportunity to see things through another’s eyes. It’s incredible. But according to the numbers above, I only want to read 1 in 1000 books. In other words, I don’t want to read 999 in 1000. I’m not interested in 99.9% of books.

These books have been selected by publishers from many more manuscripts that were rejected. They’ve been edited and redrafted multiple times. Yet, I’m not interested in them. So, you could argue I don’t like books or at least, that I think the overwhelming majority of books are a waste of time.

I like music and movies too. But based on how long I spend scrolling through Netflix and Spotify I’d say the odds are similar – I only like a fraction of what’s out there.

Here’s the thing though: while most books and movies and songs are terrible, the small percentage that I love have changed my life. They’ve moved me to tears and changed what I believe and feel.

So, what’s this got to do with wellness?

I’m pleased you asked. Wellness suffers from the same issue as books. There to inform, enlighten, inspire, challenge, connect, support and educate people, but most of it isn’t enlightening or inspiring or supportive or educational.

I’ve noticed a healthy scepticism creeping into the world lately, questioning the value of wellness programs. This is a good thing. There are loads of wellness programs out there that are simply not flying off the shelves. There are programs that promise a lot on the cover and simply don’t deliver content to back up the claims. There are people dishing out wellness that should spend their time doing something else. I’ve been looking forward to a time where wellness was looked at more critically and brought to account. Hopefully we are entering this time.

The risk though, is that we go too far. That in our spring clean, we clear out what’s valuable. That the proverbial baby gets thrown out with the bathwater and wellness gets tossed aside as just another management fad that came and went. That would be a shame. That kind of overcorrection would mean we stop delivering the potentially life-changing, life-saving support to people who are desperately in need of help. The 1 in 1000 stuff that really hits home and changes people for the better.

Be selectively critical

Anyone who tells you that all wellness is good is an idiot. Most of it should be pulped. But anyone who tells you all wellness is bad is an idiot too. They’re both lazy opinions – just at opposite ends of the spectrum. Investing in any kind of wellbeing initiative for people demands time, careful consideration and a lot of thought.

If you were buying a book as a gift for a friend, you wouldn’t just walk in blindfolded and grab anything. You wouldn’t buy the cheapest one or the one with the snazziest cover or the biggest book. You’d think about the person that’s going to receive it – what would stimulate, improve, enlighten and move them. What might give them joy and something valuable to think about. 

Select a wellness program in the same way you’d select a book for a friend. Think hard and even critically about your audience and their lives. Choose it carefully. And don’t be like the “I’m humbled to announce” crowd, and base it on what suits you. It’s not about you.

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