Is wellness just for the rich?

Originally written for published 6 March 2018  and updated March 2023

It costs lots to be healthy these days. The Global Wellness Institute reports that the world wellness economy is worth US $4.4trillion, and is forecast to $7trillion by 2025.  Globally, the wellness economy represents 5.1% of total GDP,  about 1 in every 20 “dollars” spent by consumers worldwide is on wellness.

Wellness tourism is a major player in the global tourism market – in 2019 wellness tourism expenditure was $720 billion.  While there was a downturn in 2020 due to the pandemic, wellness tourism had consistently grown much faster than regular tourism and its expected to grow again with the post-pandemic resurgence of tourism activities in the near future.  People are travelling again in search of wellness.

There’s many reasons for this growth, we all want good quality of life and there’s increased awareness of healthy aging and combating chronic disease.  Recognition of the link between improved health and improved business bottom lines and reduced societal healthcare costs also contributes.

As for the wellness tourism industry, behind that is the growing middle class throughout the world who, once they’ve met their basic needs, tend to go in search of ways rest and de-stress, while also wanting to experience other places and cultures. Cue high end yoga, spa and meditation retreats and ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ pilgrimages. This demand ignites an industry that was growing faster worldwide than traditional major industries like manufacturing, financial services, and retail pre-pandemic.

Wellness vacations, retreats and escapes, are just that, escapes from our real worlds. According to Dr Art Markman, professor of psychology at the University of Texas, these may have you feeling better temporarily, but will not increase happiness, a major component of wellness.

While escaping is pleasant at the time, removed from our usual stresses and providing relief from everyday life, it’s often an avoidance tactic, ending with a return to ‘real’ life and the same stresses that we left behind await our return. The key to wellness, says Dr Markman, is to find enriching, stimulating and fulfilling experiences.  That’s not to invalidate retreats, but rather to bring your attention to your purpose for choosing it. You could be someone that finds a silent meditation retreat ticks all those boxes.

Working in the wellness industry, at first glance this growth it seems like a good thing, especially from a professional and financial standpoint. Looking more closely, it’s concerning that Wellness is the new luxury status symbol and yet another thing separating the world’s ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’.

Just because you’re spending your hard-earned money on products, supplements, gadgets and wellness experiences like retreats, guided meditation or forest bathing sessions, and traditional gyms, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be any healthier, especially if you’re not implementing the things you learn, and the rest of your life is filled with unhealthy habits, stress and anxiety.

Doing a few simple things consistently, that don’t have to cost the earth, can easily have you on a path to wellness – ensuring you get good sleep, choosing unprocessed wholefoods, exercising regularly, getting outdoors, managing your stress effectively, making time for things you enjoy and having time out.

It may seem like you need to be wealthy to be well, but all we really need to do is focus on the simple things.