Defining Wellness

Two weeks ago, Alex-Maree Roberts ’16 criticized the culture at Andover in which “a dangerous link has formed between success and self-deprivation,” emphasizing that we should not associate self-deprivation with academic success. In last week’s issue of The Phillipian, Jake Kim ’16, in his article “An Exaggerated Diagnosis,” concluded that we cannot blame our unhealthy habits on a culture of competition and claimed that “our community does not associate such practices with success.” I agree with Roberts that a culture of self-denial stemming from competition exists at Andover, and, contrary to what Kim said, I do not believe this is a generalization because describing a culture inherently involves generalization. I, for one, believe that this competitive, success-driven culture is inevitable in any challenging environment. As members of a rigorous academic community, we must accept such challenges as an innate part of Andover or any difficult environment we decide to partake in. I disagree with Roberts too. If anything, there is no “dangerous” relationship between success and self-deprivation, as she puts it, because the demanding nature of Andover sometimes suggests that wellness means sacrificing a stress-free lifestyle for a more taxing, but ultimately a more meaningful one. Every now and then, especially on late Thursday nights when I can feel daytime approaching as I drown in my work, I find myself contemplating whether or not it is “worth” being at Andover. Having to sacrifice sleep and other necessities to survive and thrive in such a challenging environment makes me reflect on my own wellness and happiness at Andover. Some may define “wellness” and “happiness” as a healthy, nine-hour sleep routine, a healthy meal or a leisurely two-hours of homework, while others may equate wellness and happiness with following a passion that is worth sacrificing hours of sleep for. Living in a large dorm with close to 40 girls, I reside with students whose definitions of wellness lie on both ends of this spectrum. While some of my dormmates pride themselves on the nine hours of sleep they get each night or their never having consumed coffee, others in my dorm willingly sacrifice endless hours of their downtime to their academics, also to obtain their definition of wellness. I have learned at Andover that the definition of “wellness” varies from person to person. The hours of sleep one gets, the amount of caffeine they consume or the number of meals they eat per day cannot define such an abstract idea. Sometimes there is no right or wrong, good or bad, black or white when defining something, especially an issue as abstract and conditional as the definitions of personal wellness and happiness. There is no correct answer as to how one should spend one’s Andover career to achieve both wellness and success. Applying sleep statistics in order to categorize or prove a person’s values and lifestyle choices as one that is “correct” or “unhealthy” is not something we have the right to do. At Andover, students often feel the need to know the answer to everything and have an opinion on everything. In matters as conditional as “wellness,” the best opinion is to simply have your own and to respect others’ lifestyle decisions. At the same time, we must be aware of our own physical limits and must make sure that we do not over-exert ourselves in the pursuit of success. I do believe in the importance of having varied opinions and definitions of wellness and happiness on campus, because this facilitates thoughtful discussion, instead of creating barriers between people with varying thoughts. As a community, we must accept that when it comes to an individual’s values and meaning of happiness or fulfillment, there is no single answer, and we should not spend our Wellness Week chasing this unattainable answer. Instead, Wellness Week should be an opportunity to discover outlets for stress, realize our surroundings and make the most of whatever lifestyle we choose to live. The Wellness Week programs should provide students with the much-needed opportunity and time to reassess their health, progress and future goals.