ILLUSTRATION BY JON DECKER
BY JACK DANBERG
As I was sitting at a table in Blue Wall, I noticed a placard advertising an opportunity to sign up for a peer wellness coach through the Center for Health Promotion.
I have noticed a growing trend from many publications and people promoting the notion that people need to be working to get “well” or achieve “wellness.” This is a great goal and I support their efforts, but promoting such ideals highlights the fact that many people feel unwell.
The university’s promotion of wellness serves a Band-Aid to a much larger problem: our culture. Our culture values ceaseless productivity and endless competition, all of which are for the pursuit of success.
These values are ingrained in us from an early age and create emotional and physical distress from elementary school, to college, to career. Our collective distress to pursue the ideal of success through cutthroat competition and endless productivity has caused an epidemic of mental illness.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, roughly one in five of both youth and adults struggle with some form of mental illness in their lifetimes. This staggering number suggests something bigger than baseline struggle and unhappiness — something deeply embedded in the way we live.
Beside providing more healthcare resources to people suffering from these illnesses, there is more we can do.
The crisis can be resolved, but it requires a remaking of our cultural consciousness. To do this, we first must accept and understand why many do not thrive in this cultural environment.
To start, the ideal of being “productive” every day is toxic to our existence as emotionally driven human beings. The amount of times I have heard someone beat themselves up over “not being productive today” is innumerable.
What does “being productive” even mean? I’d argue that it is related to academic labor or labor within a workplace. Why does not being productive everyday cause us so much harm?
Productivity is inherently linked to competition and the ideal of success. We are told we are only judged by our merits, which drives us to compete.
In the past, it was against another American worker, but now our teachers and politicians tell us the competition is a global society. This locks us into an abstract never-ending competition between all workers in the world. The narrative of a constant all-encompassing competition drives us to get up every day and go to work and school in pursuit of the ideal of success.
The collapse of our collective mental health can be seen by the meditation of our reality and consciousness by the screens of our smartphones. Social media too often takes us from the present moment and into the sphere of public validation or shame. By validation or shame, I mean the tailoring your virtual profile to meet the perception that you want others to think of you as.
Worse yet, advertisers remind you, as you scroll through your newsfeed, that you will never be pretty enough, or handsome enough, to be loved. Or that your body can be treated with products and as a product. Or that you weren’t invited to that party your friends snapped photos from.
We need to remodel our culture so that it values the interconnectedness of the mind, body and spirit. To achieve this we must change the institutions we work for, as well as change the mindset and goals that we live by. A culture dedicated to growing empathetic, compassionate and caring human beings requires a focus on spirituality.
Spirituality is the ability for human beings to connect, cooperate and form communities that focus on the deeper meaning of life, whether that be the soul or spirit. Some find spirituality in organized religion, other do not. The essence of existence needs to be valued now for us to avoid passing down our toxic culture to our children.
For the future, as parents, educators and citizens, we must retrain and educate not only ourselves but our children on how to value a higher level of consciousness. That consciousness includes the worthiness of every human being and the interconnectedness of the mind, body and spirit.
Email Jack at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @jack_danberg.