The Wellness Syndrome
February 2015, Polity
Not exercising as much as you should? Counting your calories in your sleep? Feeling ashamed for not being happier? You may be a victim of the wellness syndrome.
In this ground-breaking new book, Carl Cederström and André Spicer argue that the ever-present pressure to maximize our wellness has started to work against us, making us feel worse and provoking us to withdraw into ourselves. The Wellness Syndrome follows health freaks who go to extremes to find the perfect diet, corporate athletes who start the day with a dance party, and the self-trackers who monitor everything, including their own toilet habits. This is a world where feeling good has become indistinguishable from being good. Visions of social change have been reduced to dreams of individual transformation, political debate has been replaced by insipid moralising, and scientific evidence has been traded for new-age delusions. A lively and humorous diagnosis of the cult of wellness, this book is an indispensable guide for everyone suspicious of our relentless quest to be happier and healthier.
1. The Perfect Human
2. The Health Bazaar
3. The Happiness Doctrine
4. The Chosen Life
5. Wellness, Farewell
Carl Cedertröm is Associate Professor at Stockholm
Andre Spicer is Professor of Organisational Behaviour at Cass Business School, City University, London
"In their witty, caustic new book… Carl Cederström and André Spicer dissect our contemporary infatuation with a cluster of seemingly innocuous concepts – health, happiness, mindfulness, authenticity and positivity – seeking to lay bare the pernicious, individualistic values that underlie them."
William Rees, The TLS
"Carl Cederström and André Spicer’s brilliantly sardonic anatomy of this “wellness syndrome” concentrates on the ways in which the pressure to be well operates as a moralising command and obliterates political engagement... These authors would no doubt agree that there is nothing wrong with being well or wanting to be well. But, as their deeply humane and persuasive book shows, being told to be well is a different matter entirely. A society where wellness is obligatory is a sick one."
Steven Poole, The Guardian
"When I read their angry, hilarious book, The Wellness Syndrome, I felt like I was being shaken awake from a dream."
Helen Rumbelow, The Times
“My underlying scepticism about society's single-minded quest for physical perfection was validated when I came across The Wellness Syndrome. Like me, the authors don't have any gripes about wellness per se… but what they are concerned about is how wellness has become an ideology. The more we focus on our own wellness, the book argues, the more we alienate others and the more isolated we become... By spending so much time looking inward, in a relentless pursuit for the ideal body and state of mind, we pay less attention to the wider world and its ills.”
Gabrielle Monghan, Irish Independent
“Short, brilliant and bracing, The Wellness Syndrome is the Brave New World de nos jours, a mordant satire on our contemporary mores... I pray that the authors will put a lot of life coaches (and celebrity chefs and similar fraudsters) out of business.”
Andy Martin, Literary Review
"The Wellness Syndrome slinks like a submarine beneath the disingenuously placid surface-narratives of contemporary ideology, before torpedoing, with devastating effect, that most pernicious of all neo-liberal doctrines: positiveness."
Tom McCarthy, author of Remainder, C and Satin Island
"A fascinating and timely investigation of the modern ideology of 'wellness', with its moralizing insistence that being a good member of society means meditating more, exercising more and using your smartphone to track sleep patterns, your diet and even your sex life. Carl Cederström and André Spicer vividly show how the consumer economy has co-opted health and even happiness itself- and warn that our fixation on wellness is ultimately an anxiety-inducing, isolating and joyless way to live."
Oliver Burkeman, Guardian columnist and author of The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking
"A wonderful piece of work which exposes the wellness ideology for what it is: a stupid and dreadful fantasy of authentic self-mastery. As this timely and entertaining book shows, such fantasies must be nailed.'
Simon Critchley, The New School for Social Research
'We all obscurely sense that politics has dramatically shifted. Less involved in the 'body politic' than ever, we are all far more deeply engaged with our own bodies, through medicine, meditation workshops or fitness classes. As this insightful and elegant book shows, this shift marks a dramatic change in our societies as it makes health and happiness the new markers of 'morality' or 'immorality'. Fat people and smokers are now united in their common immorality. Marshalling an impressive array of evidence, this book sheds a much-needed light on the new tyranny exerted by the cultural imperatives of health and happiness."
Eva Illouz, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
"Using a comprehensive set of case studies, Carl Cederström and André Spicer diagnose contemporary capitalism's obsession with 'wellness'. The Wellness Syndrome is a mordantly witty analysis of how ideology works today. It demonstrates that the fixation on health is itself pathological – and that sickness can be liberating."
Mark Fisher, Goldsmiths University
"Overall, as an anatomy of modern optimisation culture the book is sharp and laconic, as readers of the authors' excellent previous work, The Wellness Syndrome, will have expected."