What I think about well-being as a consumer trend

I was recently asked to contribute some perspective to an article a friend of a friend was writing on “well-being” and the cultural drivers that are sustaining what is essentially a consumer trend.  Here are the questions I was asked, and the stream of consciousness i supplied that was eventually taken down to a couple of concise paragraphs.

Concinity is not my strong suit.  Neither is well-being, for that matter…but I at least have an informed point of view:

Questions:

  • What do you believe are the 2-3 most important emerging trends driving a greater human inquiry toward well-being? (For instance, in one of your emails you mentioned “dematerialization” as a trend which may inadvertently creating more question and possibilities to explore wellbeing.)
  •  Why are these trends emerging now? And why do they matter to global companies?
  •  In your highest vision, where could these trends lead us (us as people, us as companies, us as whole societies)?

The response i barfed out:

In returning to the original verbatim brain-dump response I sent, I thought it was interesting to see the context from whence she was able to find a couple of much more concise points.

So, here is my stream of consciousness on where we got to the interest in all this “well being” business.  😉

Sit down with a long-drinkin’ beverage and enjoy:

First: Surface culture versus deep culture balance seeking

One trend that has been emerging on a global scale…especially in places like the emerging third world / BRIC countries is a palpable cultural tension driving consumers to find a balance between the new drivers of economic gain/status/consumption and connection/homage to what is in many cases hundreds or thousands of years of cultural and spiritual tradition.

Economic globalization (more access to “stuff” due to economic prosperity) combined with the proliferation of communication technology (our ability to facilitate dialogues and have access to information) has allowed humans to see and discuss the impact of economic prosperity for better or for worse and to really examine the values that are truly important….rather than relying on propoganda or invented popular culture as our soul source of stimulus and input on what’s right or wrong.

To give you an idea of how why that is significant…in America, when we were an up-and-coming middle class nation starting in the mid century, the only exposure we had to shape our norms / values / priorities / ideals was the content that was choicefully curated and broadcast on our limited communications mediums…TV, Radio, periodicals, etc. Therefore, we (for better or worse, come ambition or depression) believed that the path to happiness and prosperity was through working hard and accumulating “stuff”. That lead to a generation of Baby boomers who sacrificed time with their family and having balance for the promise of pensions and economic stability. Then Gen Y came of age watching their boomer parents lose their jobs, pensions and stability after having sacrificed their passions, and oftentimes relationships with their children. NOW, gen Y in America is re-examining their priorities toward a more realistic balance. BUT what we don’t talk about is that their parent’s generaiton didn’t have any access to what was going on in the rest of the world, an understanding of diverse spiritual and cultural traditions, etc….because they were living in a bubble.

There is no more bubble. The emerging middle class nations now are coming up in a time when they do have all kinds of access that allows them to objectively see how other humans prioritize and also the failures of priorities gone wrong on other nations who have “been there and done that”.

This is important to companies on many levels: because they will have to develop business practices (from employment policies to brand strategies) that are human-centric and prioritize the importance of honoring cultural and spiritual traditions as well as economic ambition and managing the “triple bottom line” of People, Planet, Profit.

I think this trend will continue to shape how humans view their place in the world as consumers and their responsibility to other humans and to maintaining a connection to our humanity. It will mean that we will be increasingly more desirous of higher order benefits from our work as well as our consumption practices.

I suppose it goes without saying (but I should say it anyway) that many cultural traditions are rooted in maintaining a connection between our minds and our bodies and other humans and the planet. Spirituality in many eastern senses is about harnessing positive energy to sustain your existence and contribute to a harmonious society. That is well-being at its core and is, in actuality, old news we are reminding ourselves of as we get pulled in by the “shiny things” that come with economic prosperity. In many ways, the emerging third world is lightyears ahead of the developed world in that respect, but we are catching up with the “wellness’ trends (in the developed world) BECAUSE we are seeing the value it brings to other cultures…by virtue of the fact that we no longer live in that “bubble”….

Second: Consumers taking responsibility for facilitating human equality

Again, caused by the proliferation of communication technology and our ability to see the consequences of globalization and the reality of human inequality, humans are becoming more cognizant of the realities that affect other humans…and are able to see pictures painted of other humans around the world, realizing that regardless of our differences we share mostly the same basic ideals and needs.

We are also, because of the emergence of more middle class individuals with more spending power due to globalization, feeling more empowered by our economic access: we see how much influence we have with our purchase power. This is true mostly of developed cultures who have had capitalism hanging around for a while. We are used to being marketed to and having lots of choices and are seeing that how we spend affects what companies do. And we are starting to see that our dollars, in no matter how small an amount on an individual level, have an impact when we act as a collective toward a common goal.

We are therefore not only starting to demand that the companies we buy from do more to benefit society, but demand more from ourselves. We are starting to find more impactful ways to make our money count. This is evident in the rapid growth of microfinance, for example….and on a more conceptual level with crowd-sourced venture capital concepts like Kickstarter (kickstarter.com) which empower creativity and entrepreneuriship.

This is important for companies because they need to understand that the impact they have on the world is significant and being watched….placing a responsibility on those companies to behave in ways that further the cause of equality and don’t polarize the “haves” and “have nots”. It also means that they are no longer just competing against other big, well funded companies, but against individuals who are being activated and empowered by masses of other individuals.

I believe this trend will continue and we will see a more level playing-field emerge in both the third world as well as developed nations. We will see more entrepreneurship and creativity and people carving out their own destiny / path that is driven by passion and funded by…literally…human-centric ideals. It will also lend to a continuation of the first trend I mentioned regarding seeking basic balance between our ambition and our traditions…but also an overall mind-body-soul balance because we will be empowered to achieve on our own terms and create new concepts / ways of doing business centered around those ideals.

At the end of the day, empowering others makes us feel good. It enhances our sense of well-being and encourages us to examine our own personal priorities regarding happiness and health and the importance of each relative to our other more pragmatic financial or ego-driven priorities.

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