Wellness is more complicated than it needs to be
I love the act of looking after one’s self, but with all of these raging opinions and self-care kits, it’s important to remember that what actually makes you feel good could be incredibly simple.
Wellness, as an industry, rakes in a global $1.5 trillion each year, and that’s growing 10% each year, according to McKinsey. What this looks like is 58-step skin care routines, scented candles and juice cleanse. It can feel pretty overwhelming.
Fumio Sasaki, a minimalism writer, wrote about feeling overwhelmed “I used to be a slow computer where you’d see the loading icon spinning on the screen for what seemed like an eternity. I was up to my ears in data, and even if I wanted to try something new, there was so much that had to be done simultaneously that I would probably crash immediately.” I think that’s why we tend to veg out alot more, and by doing so, take in more data about what to do to feel good.
Who profits in this scenario where you have to do so many things in order to be happy? Is it you, or is it the people who position themselves as experts built on anecdotes that sell products and services? Kathleen Newman-Bermang talks on Refinery29 about how self-care and wellness has lost it’s roots. “The idea of taking time for yourself in order to better take on systemic anti-Black racism, class inequality and political injustice got lost in an over-filtered translation. Self-care cannot be an “act of political warfare” if the only battle you’re waging is against your frown lines with $110 moisturiser.”
What if - instead - we brought a sense of wonder to this self-care work, and really thought long and hard about what makes us genuinely happy and what we need to improve in our lives? I don’t mean relying on a list, a book or a friend as a cheat sheet to happiness.
What’s intrinsically rewarding - for you?
We’re a social species, and as part of that, we rely on others to gauge what do to, it’s nothing personal, it’s just how we’re built, those that followed the herd’s common lore, lived longer. Knowing that internal bias that each of us have to go with societal norms, we should dial down others’ definitions of wellness and happiness and listen a bit more to our own.
Clayton Christensen, academic and theory-creator, points out in his book How will you measure your life? that the things that make us the most happy are ones that we work hard at, such as repairing the back deck with kids. Interestingly, those are the kind of tasks that we outsource to the gig economy in favour for more downtime. What if the physicality, mental fortitude and time required to repair a back porch is exactly the kind of wellness that would make us feel silently accomplished?
What if self-care was making a meal with a loved one?
I’m advocating that we can do more with less. In fact, our bodies crave it.
It takes two months for meditation to reduce the stress response in the brain, it takes three months to see if a supplement will have a positive effect. These things take time, but we keep on adding to the “fix yourself” pile, and in the end, we don’t really know what’s working and what’s not.
Let’s do less.
Simplicity, by nature, means that we’re consuming less, but we may, as a result, be more well.
Wouldn’t it be radical if we felt whole and complete, not despite of, but with all of the suffering that our body and mind dishes out? There’s a huge range of symptoms that are really all normal parts of being a human that has the privilege of ageing: shitty sleep, knees that ache, allergies and accidents. I caveat this: rule out serious diseases, get your blood tested, work with your physio and doctors, exercise, do your research.
Michael Pollan’s mantra for how to eat is a spectacular example of simplicity in action “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants”.
Real wellness may not be easy to photograph or talk about, but if we do a few simple things that are meaningful to us, with all of our heart and mind, and if we sleep, eat and love well, it could generate a real, lasting sense of well-being without propping up another consumerism trend. It’s as simple, and as difficult, as that.
What do we do once we’ve refilled the well? I’ll leave you with Audre Lorde, a multi-decade activist, poet, feminist, queer writer. She wrote this poem whilst working as a political activist who was battling cancer “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.”
Wellness is useful when we look after ourselves to do good in the world.
Accompanying playlist: Apple / Spotify
Break my soul - Beyonce
Shine - Koffee
Tend the garden - Gang of Youths
Umi says - Most Def
Mood ring - Lorde
I want to break free - Queen