TV pro­grammes, pod­casts, blogs, di­ets and even hol­i­days prom­ise per­sonal growth and self-im­prove­ment, yet we’re more mis­er­able than we’ve ever been. Is the road to holis­tic hap­pi­ness ac­tu­ally tak­ing us where we want to go? asks Maresa Ma­nara

Friday - - Contents -

‘Well­ness’, holis­tic health and egg-white omelettes... Could all this striv­ing to be bet­ter ac­tu­ally be mak­ing you mis­er­able?

Thirteen years ago An­drew Hamp­son was liv­ing the high life, cruis­ing through Syd­ney’s flash sea­side suburbs in a con­vert­ible BMW. He de­served the Dh535,000 an­nual salary and tai­lored suits, the re­wards of his job as sales man­ager for Fuji Xerox. Ful­fil­ment and hap­pi­ness were laid out be­fore him; yet no mat­ter how high up the cor­po­rate lad­der An­drew climbed, he couldn’t quite reach them.

“I went trav­el­ling and when I got back I felt suf­fo­cated in the cor­po­rate world, where all any­one cared about was their next pro­mo­tion or buy­ing the new­est car,” says An­drew, 45. “I re­signed and trained as a yoga teacher. I’d be ly­ing if I said I didn’t ques­tion the decisions I made on one or two oc­ca­sions, but the truth is I’m a lot hap­pier.”

An­drew is one of around 300 mil­lion ‘well­ness con­sumers’ world­wide – a grow­ing group of peo­ple look­ing to en­rich and change their lives through ac­tiv­i­ties in­clud­ing yoga, mas­sages, detoxes, healthy eat­ing and well­ness re­treats. It’s big busi­ness. Ac­cord­ing to US re­search in­sti­tute SRI In­ter­na­tional, the well­ness in­dus­try will be worth around $10 tril­lion (Dh37 tril­lion) by 2020 – a stag­ger­ing fig­ure if you con­sider that 40 years ago it barely ex­isted at all.

Yet over those four decades since ‘well­ness’ dropped into our house­hold lingo, life’s got busier and stress has sky­rock­eted. De­pres­sion and as­so­ci­ated men­tal ill­nesses are on the rise glob­ally, ac­cord­ing to theWorld Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion, with an es­ti­mated 350 mil­lion peo­ple thought to be af­fected, and a re­cent re­port by the Of­fice of Na­tional Sta­tis­tics said one in five UK adults suf­fer from de­pres­sion. Which begs the ques­tion: with so many op­tions promis­ing to make us bet­ter, why are we ac­tu­ally feel­ing worse?

A ma­te­rial world

“De­pres­sion is more com­mon these days, mainly be­cause our cop­ing abil­i­ties are not as strong as they were be­fore,” says Mary John, clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist at the Dubai Com­mu­nity Health Cen­tre. “This is also due to a lack of strong bond­ing in re­la­tion­ships, and a lack of a close-knit net­work of good friends to care and of­fer gen­uine sup­port.”

Sonja Lyubomirsky is a psychology pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia and au­thor of The How of Hap­pi­ness and TheMyths of Hap­pi­ness. She says many peo­ple look for tem­po­rary hap­pi­ness through ma­te­rial wealth and pos­ses­sions, rather than mak­ing per­sonal in­vest­ments for long-term sat­is­fac­tion.

“A lot of peo­ple think ‘when I buy that house I’ll be happy, when I move to that city I’ll be happy, when I have a baby I’ll be happy’,” she says. “Those things do make us happy, but they don’t make us happy for­ever. We adapt to what we have and then we want more. This pres­sure ac­tu­ally makes us less happy. The best way to bring hap­pi­ness is not to fo­cus di­rectly on it; so be­ing gen­er­ous, thought­ful, learn­ing new skills and do­ing kind acts for oth­ers make peo­ple happy for longer.”

But for plenty of stressed-out pro­fes­sion­als, a detox hol­i­day on the sunny shores of An­tigua is far more

ap­peal­ing than help­ing out at the lo­cal char­ity. We want peo­ple to make us feel bet­ter, not the other way around, and we’re will­ing to pay a lot for them to do it.

Well­ness re­treats – which can mean any­thing from yoga on the parched plains of Seville to mas­sages be­side Ba­li­nese rice paddy fields – cost thou­sands of dirhams, yet do we still reap the re­wards once we’re back slumped at our desks, with our nu­tri­tious egg-white omelettes re­placed by can­teen dough­nuts?

Some cer­tainly think so. “You re­ally see peo­ple trans­formed over the space of the week, the ex­haust­ed­look­ing faces and fur­rowed brows go, they lose weight, catch a bit of sun,” says Kathryn Bri­er­ley, founder of The Healthy Hol­i­day Com­pany.

There are no easy an­swers

Some peo­ple be­lieve that well­ness re­treats are sim­ply grasp­ing at easy an­swers – the psy­cho­log­i­cal equiv­a­lent of slap­ping a plas­ter on a bro­ken leg. “Pa­tients come to us do­ing yoga, med­i­ta­tion, di­ets and gym ev­ery day,” says Mary. “They’re still anx­ious and when you look into their his­tory you see they haven’t sorted out the cause of the prob­lems. These things will def­i­nitely help in calm­ing their nerves, but no amount of these will help un­less you deal with the root prob­lem.”

An­other well­ness cynic is Tanya Mah. The 29-yearold has done yoga-teacher train­ing in Bali and vis­ited spir­i­tual teach­ers in Africa, yet she still feels the pres­sure of mod­ern life weigh­ing on her. “I’ve had huge anx­i­eties over not be­ing good, suc­cess­ful or ca­pa­ble enough. The pres­sure isn’t com­ing from any­body else – I cre­ated it,” she says. “I’ve set my own stan­dards and ex­pec­ta­tions, some are work­ing for me and keep me mo­ti­vated and striv­ing for more. Oth­ers are de­bil­i­tat­ing and an­noy­ing.”

So the ques­tion is, has our ob­ses­sion with well­ness be­come a dis­trac­tion from the big­ger, more se­ri­ous psy­cho­log­i­cal prob­lems we all face? “It’s im­por­tant that a men­tal health pro­fes­sional is con­sulted and a clear di­ag­no­sis made be­fore any type of treat­ment is planned,” says Mary. “Spas, mas­sages, re­treats and yoga are all good for re­liev­ing stress, but not when it’s af­fect­ing our men­tal health. A wrong di­ag­no­sis and wrong man­age­ment tech­nique could lead to big­ger prob­lems.”

Back in Syd­ney, it’s 3pm and An­drew is leav­ing his stu­dio for a late af­ter­noon ocean swim. His gam­ble has paid off. Pro­mo­tions and part­ner­ships had been sparkling on the hori­zon, but rather than set­tling for the su­per­fi­cial, An­drew changed his life­style from the ground up.

“I have no doubt that if I was still at Xerox I’d be that guy driv­ing that ex­pen­sive car and yes, I might be happy with three fab­u­lous hol­i­days around the world each year,” he says. “But while I cer­tainly earn a lot less money now, I re­ally en­joy my life­style and I’ve made a dif­fer­ence in a lot of peo­ple’s lives.”

An­drew Hamp­son, above, swapped a high-paid job in a multi­na­tional to be­come a yoga teacher; whereas Tanya Mah, this pic­ture, is still search­ing for hap­pi­ness de­spite her well­ness ac­tiv­i­ties

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