For starters, there is evidence suggesting that paying attention to your happiness, a crucial part of well-being, can actually make you less happy. In one study, two groups watched a video that usually makes people happy – a figure skater winning a prize. Afterwards, participants filled in a questionnaire to assess happiness. The only difference was that before viewing the video, one group read a statement emphasising the importance of happiness and the other group did not. Those who did not read the statement were more happy after the video. Consciously focusing on our happiness can backfire.
An obsessive focus on wellness can also make us more judgmental, potentially worsening societal divisions. Those who highly value well-being tend to view those who don’t come up to their high standards as “disgusting”, even if the truth is they can’t afford a personal yoga instructor or the latest lifelogging technology.
A fascinating stream of research in moral psychology has found that when feelings of disgust are triggered, we tend to rapidly make highly punitive moral judgements. For example, we are more likely to harshly judge people who “turn our stomach” and we ascribe morally unattractive traits to them, such as being lazy and untrustworthy.
While workplace programmes promise great things, they sometimes deliver disappointing results. For instance, some studies have found wellness initiatives only helped a small number of employees lose on average half a kilogram over a year. While any weight loss is not to be sniffed at, it is uncertain whether such modest results are worth the billions spent achieving them.