I was recently joined into a messaging thread for a group dedicated to technology, well-being and all things related to this burgeoning industry. Before being invited to join, the existing members had been asked if anyone knew about Peacebeam and the question was: do these things make a difference?
Yoga Pants and Cryotherapy?
It’s a good question because the obvious rejoinder is: in what sense? We have been studying the well-being industry for the last year trying to get a sense of orientation in something that appears to be expanding at the speed of light and embraces everything from yoga-pants to whole body cryotherapy. For the idly curious, this is where you pay someone large amounts of money to stick you in a freezer at a temperature of -100C for 2 to 4 minutes. I gather that after 30 seconds you are afraid you are going to die and after one minute you are hoping you are going to die. I think yoga pants are optional. Unsurprisingly, when you get out and feel life coursing through your veins again you feel pretty elated.
The most fashionable/recognisable aspect of this industry is mindfulness. In the last 12 months this has become a mainstream term. In fact, you can now purchase yoga pants mindfully from mindful yoga pant manufacturers and probably wear them whilst mindfully freezing your ass off on a corporate mindfulness retreat. Mindfulness apps like Headpspace have had huge growth in the last couple of years - 18 million downloads since they started - and others like Calm and Buddhify have robust and loyal followings. So, we can say the well-being industry is healthy. Last year the Global Wellness Institute (yup, there is such a thing) valued the industry at $3.72 trillion!
$3.72 trillion on well-being, $2 trillion on wars
This is very good news, not for the financial aspect, but because according to Scilla Elsworthy’s Business Plan for Peace, we spend $2 trillion on wars every year. I was absolutely thrilled when I realized that possibly for the first time in recorded history we are spending more on well-being than on war. This seems to be solid evidence that there is a growing awakening in people and a search for some deeper meaning in their lives beyond what traditional religion and social constructs have had to offer. The new frontier really does seem to be the self and more particularly the well-being of the self. It is useful to be able to point to the industry figures to underline this trend – we can actually see that we are ploughing disposable income into well-being – but the question remains does it make a difference other than in an accounting sense?
There is another view that the explosion in mindfulness, well-being and all it embraces is a sophisticated expression of the narcissism that seems to be a feature of our age. There is something in this. I think we probably all know someone who spends a lot of time at yoga and meditation retreats but can’t quite manage being kind. JP Sears nails this type of silent passive-aggressive practice of competitive spirituality brilliantly in his hilarious video “How to be be Ultra Spiritual”. Worth a watch if only for that uncomfortable moment when you realize he is describing you….I talk about energy quite a lot!
Is it just fashionable?
Do these things make a difference only to what’s fashionable then? Is mindfulness and well-being to 2017 what gyms and aerobics were to 1987? The answer is probably a both/and. There is an element of the explosion of well-being that is just fashionable, useful for reinforcing narcissism and elitism and there is an element that has the potential to change the world.
This potential is contained in the intention of the individual. It is the evolutionary step in which well-being transforms into world-being and that is the bit that we are interested in at Peacebeam. We believe that every time a person wishes unrestricted good for themselves or for the people around them, their well-being becomes world-being. The same applies to any sincere practice undertaken because we have a desire to be better in the world for the benefit of the world. It doesn’t matter what the practice is really; it could be peacebeaming or whole body cryotherapy or darts (I see a combination of all three as a potential sport in the world well-being Olympics which, at the current rate of industry expansion, can only be a matter of time...just have to work in competitive yoga-pants somewhere) if the aim is something beyond the self, then the ripples of that practice have infinite potential to make a difference. In time, perhaps we won’t just out-spend war, we will outgrow it altogether.