Newspapers and newscasts pump out constant scenarios of a world seething in crisis. Governments which appear to be functioning are covertly on the verge of collapse; climate modifications herald a death knell for life; biotechnology will eliminate food, while wars and political crises ravage our planet.
And yet—according to the Wellness 2030 Report by the Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute of Economic and Social Studies —life expectancy in the U.S. and Europe almost doubled between the years 1900 and 2014 (up from 41 to 76 years in the U.S. and from 43 to 80 years in Europe), extreme poverty in the world diminished from 75% to 10% within the past 70 years and the average workweek in Western societies has dropped about one third since 1900. Psychologist and author Steven Pinker even produced a TED talk illustrating how dramatically our global scenario appears to be generally improving.
Gilon Institute for Higher Education is stunningly perched on a steep mountainside above the beautiful city of Montreux in Switzerland (where Quincy Jones and Carlos Santana occasionally jam together while attending the famed annual Jazz Festival adjacent to Lake Geneva). The reputed school hosts several hundred hospitality students each semester. The renovated interior includes a casual modern atmosphere, and students tend both the bar and new restaurant to practice their skills.
Weeks ago at Glion, inside a hillside classroom with a stunning view, a group listened to Mariana Palmeiro —Head of Wellness to Business Executive Education for Glion, and Mary Tabacchi —Ph.D at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration. They spoke about future trends in the wellness and hospitality industries. They focused on the above-mentioned GDI report titled 'Wellness 2030: The new techniques of happiness.' The report makes surprising observations to those unaware of the galloping pace of the industry.
The report includes a prediction that the wellness industry will become an extension of the data economy, where ‘only service providers who speak most directly to our own individual prospects for happiness will prevail.’
Other conclusions are more eye-opening.
Although apps now exist to monitor our exercise patterns as well as to optimize our breathing and health regimes, the report predicts that the next generation of wellness technology will infiltrate our bodies and change human nature. This relates to biohacking.
‘Biohackers,’ the report explains, are a ‘subculture of people with a whole range of different backgrounds…driven by a pioneering spirit,’ (who) ‘want to liberate themselves from the limitations of nature, age, and disease.’ Biohackers the report continues is the new 'pioneers of wellness'. They will ‘think beyond the classical understanding of wellness’ and want to ‘manipulate our physiology in order to increase our well-being and happiness.’
That’s correct: ‘manipulate our physiology.’
In 1948, the World Health Organisation (WHO) defined health as a ‘state of complete physical, mental and social well-being.’ Wellness, according to a classic definition created by Halbert L. Dunn in the 1960’s, is a dynamic process where a human moves toward even higher potentials of functioning. Crudely summarized, health is about waking up and feeling good, while wellness is about deciding to go for a walk in the countryside to feel even better and to improve health.
Happiness, however, relates to a person’s satisfaction with life, their level of joy and their general well being. Intuitively it may seem that better health and wellness always promote happiness, but factors such as genetics, environment, and relationships also impinge on what makes us smile.
In the past century, a significant determinant of our happiness—genetic code—was out of our control. The report indicates that during the 21stcentury, biotechnology, ‘consciousness technology,’ and ‘biohacking’ may move the needle on how we can influence genes, and our very moods. The language is not vague: 'The next generation of happiness technologies...go to work directly on our genes or brain cells.'
Before revealing more eye-opening aspects of this report, Palmeiro and Tabacchi described the modern ‘global wellness economy’ as having an annual value of more than $3.7 trillion and being centered on the spa industry (worth $99 billion a year and employing some 2.8 million people). Those who operate such facilities know that a ‘wellness tourist’ spends over 60% more than an ‘average international traveler.’ [On the lakeshore below Glion, for example, award-winning Clinique La Prairie —pioneers in science and art of longevity'—has treated international clients discreetly for eight decades with such attention that they maintain a kitchen staff of 24 to prepare bespoke meals for 60 clients staying there.]
They also described ‘wellness lifestyle real estate,’ where purchasers want homes proactively designed and built to support the holistic health of future residents. This business alone grew by almost 9% between 2013 and 2015.
This massive impact of the wellness sector on the world economy makes the report’s insights salient for all who work in the industry. The text identifies ‘five trends for the future of wellness.’ Three are especially noteworthy. These are:
Trend 2. Biohacking will be a shortcut to well being.
The future is open for how biotechnology (as well as technology) may change human beings. Consider a few individuals mentioned in the report. Computer engineer Mikey Siegel and his Consciousness Hacking movement in California are considering tech that could provide the benefit of 10,000 hours of meditation as a sort of app (hello, Matrix?), while synthetic biologist Christina Agapakis is asking whether humans can be hacked to be photosynthetic so they could live without food (farewell to the pleasure of a T-Bone and glass of Bordeaux red?). The point is that current ‘biohacking’ is not only screaming ahead at a rapid rate, but includes visions of a future many of us never imagined.
According to graphics in the report, ‘disruptive technologies of the self’ may include brain-computer interfaces allowing us to operate machines using our thoughts, ingesting microdoses of psychedelics in order to regulate hormones, using bioelectronic medications to alter electrical signals in nerves to treat diseases, and manipulating genetic material in humans cells.
Trend 4. Wellness is social—make people happier and healthier together.
This is self-explanatory. Many social scientists, tribal communities and members of the general population will agree that ‘humans are social animals.’ What is slightly unnerving are statistics that show the proportion of one-person households in the U.S. rose from 15% in 1940 to 25% at the turn of the century, and that between 1980 and 2010 in the U.S., the number of surveyed individuals who said they felt lonely rose from 20% to 40%. The report mentions the possible future of algorithms that may choose our partners better than we can. It also mentions that, 'Together we are smarter, learn better, reach our goals faster and make fewer mistakes.' The text does temper enthusiasm by mentioning the dark side of ‘digital happiness,’ where increased human proximity might lead to impatience and potential unrest.
Trend 5. Biofeedback replaces surveys.
If sensors placed in our homes (or anywhere) can read facial expressions and biometrics, they could also analyze moods and provide suggestions as to how to improve them. There are already programs that examine selfie posts to analyze the moods of different cities (more people smile in São Paulo and Bangkok than in Berlin and New York—did you know?). As ‘local mood reports’ become as common as weather reports, consumer goods suppliers will be able to ‘measure which activities and offers make consumers happy and how long this happiness endures afterwards.’ This may sound invasive, but the goal, the text says, is that ‘happier, more satisfied people are more productive and creative, have healthier lives and generate lower costs for the company and state.’
Biofeedback will also begin to guide our travel choices. Devices in guest rooms may be able to monitor how the bodies of guests react, and travel advisory websites might be supplanted by Artificial Intelligence reports that gauge emotions of visitors to different locations, then provide readouts of overall ‘happiness trends’ for different cities or destinations.
This 'Wellness 2003' report is progressive and eclectic—quoting industry leaders, authors, philosophers, artists, and engineers. It discusses topics as diverse as 'data Buddhism' (really) and even mentions seduction in a brief recount of the French ‘Art of Life.’ The overall gist is that technical tools can now complement spiritual tools for health and wellness.
The text is amply illustrated with drawings and covers fresh ground with enthusiasm. However, section subtitles such as ‘Biohackers and Silicon Valley are the New Pioneers of Wellness’ may have nervous readers clamoring for their dog-eared copy of Brave New World. Yet it is a preview of potential future possibilities. It will behoove members of the health and wellness sector to learn more about these predictions.
While this seminar above Lake Geneva was wrapping up—on a gorgeous sunlit spring afternoon—it was refreshing to look outside a large window and see hospitality students—of their own volition—picking fresh herbs from the garden to concoct health beverages they would then offer to visitors. They were exercising while foraging in nature and apparently needed no app or biofeedback to put sunlit smiles on their faces.
Which was a reminder.
Regardless of technological innovations, the growing wellness sector will need to remember the benefits of spending time in natural environments. With regard to health, it's important to consider not just our bodies and genetic makeup, but the external environments where we live.
The Swiss, apparently, already understand this.