By Thierry Malleret, economist
By Thierry Malleret, economist

The wellness “space” is not immune from polarization. Wellness consumption in the United States tends to be highly correlated with socio-economic status and can sometimes take the form of conspicuous consumption. But the point about the U.S. being the “sick man” of the rich world begs the question of whether this observation might also apply to wellness.

There is no doubt that the U.S. is a country at the avant-garde in terms of wellness (whether its consumption per capita, the sophistication of the industry, the scope and breadth of the offerings, etc.), but this passion/obsession can sometimes mutate into…un-wellness! Nowhere is this cognitive dissonance more apparent than in the temple of success and entrepreneurship, Silicon Valley, where the quest for wellness and passion for healthy eating and exercise coexist with the glorification of stress and sleep deprivation.

It’s worth looking at this paradox in greater detail because it tells us something about the ambiguity (and complexity) of leading a “well life.” It also questions the very meaning of wellness and well-being.

Silicon Valley embraces wellness with fervour, yet its workplace culture extols extreme workaholism as a desirable form of lifestyle and trumpets that working less than 18 hours a day “is for losers” or as a famous t-shirt says, “9 to 5 is for the weak.” How can such a proposition be advanced by an intelligent, highly data-literate community when it flies in the face of the most basic scientific evidence?

Innumerable articles and books explain that quality sleep is important for brain function, and recent research conducted in the U.S. demonstrates that when we sleep, our brain removes toxic proteins from its neurons (by contrast, if we don’t get enough high quality sleep, the toxic proteins remain in our brain cells, slowing and sometimes impairing our cognitive ability).

In the same vein, fasting has become the latest wellness trend, but it sometimes takes extreme forms. Extended fasting (up to seven days) is now seen as the wellness “holy grail” among many tech senior executives and geeks, who define it as a “bio-hacking” method destined to improve productivity.

2 thoughts on “MONTHLY BAROMETER – WELLNESS EDITION: Silicon Valley: An Obsession with Wellness AND Extreme Workaholism”

  1. This is not the paradox it seems – wellness isn’t just the things we do outside work, we can get huge benefits from the work itself. This is important because there is a lot employers can do around the core of the work and working environment itself. The evidence is here:
    Although workers with such jobs appear to experience more demands at work than other workers, it appears the positive features of their work offset higher work demands.

  2. There is a growing movement towards people seeing downtime as a positive thing. Previously standing still was seen as a weakness in corporate culture but thanks to science showing how we can recharge with quality rest it’s starting to gain traction. However, in today’s plugged in society it will be a very slow culture change… become slower!
    I recommend this book on the subject

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