Worksite Wellness, Mental Health and Philosophy: Why Friedrich Nietzsche Should Be Taught

If REAL wellness were offered at worksite wellness functions, employees would learn life skills large and small, particularly in the areas of philosophy and human happiness. As it is, wellness is largely a medical endeavor focused on risk reduction and prevention, neither of which contributes much to the work setting as a learning environment. If philosophy were on the wellness agenda, workers would have continuous opportunities to increase their capacities for reason, exuberance and liberty toward higher quality of life. I’m often asked for practical examples of what employees might learn if skills taught included meaning and purpose, global awareness, personal responsibility, happiness, applied ethics and philosophy, to name just a few quality of life-type topics.Here is one illustration from the rich field of practical philosophy.The example draws on a key concept of Friedrich Nietzsche.Think of the last time you were upset, saddened, disappointed or otherwise discouraged by an event or circumstance. Was there anything positive you could do at the time you were feeling the unpleasant effects of the experience? Is there a method, a technique or an idea that might, next time, diminish the sorrowful emotional feelings associated with unhappiness? Is there a concept you might call into conscious awareness that could mitigate your perspective somewhat? In short, what could you think about that would lead you, almost immediately, back to a more serene state? Put one more way, how might you think your way back a few levels from near the bottom up toward the top of an imaginary but genuinely felt low to high emotional scale?I think there might be a mental discipline applicable to this kind of often-occurring situation. It comes from one of the world’s most well-known philosophers. I’m not sure what to call it, but the concept concerns the ups and downs, cycles good and bad. In Faust’s imagery, it’s the notion that beauty is bound to its fragility, that dawn is unimaginable without the dusk.To grasp the idea, consider the tides, the peaks versus valley rhythms. In this way, guard against excessive or disproportionate reactions or alarms – behind the dips there are peaks. Difficulties of every sort can almost be welcomed, for they give depth and add fulfillment to more positive times when they arrive.Alain de Botton, author of “The Consolations Of Philosophy,” cites Aristotle’s observation to this effect: The prudent man strives for freedom from pain, not pleasure. The priority for all those seeking contentment is to recognize the impossibility of uninterrupted fulfillment and so avoid the troubles and anxiety that we typically encounter in its wake.Nietzsche believed it impossible to attain the satisfactions associated with a fulfilled life without feeling very miserable some of the time. He held the view that the most fulfilling human projects appeared inseparable from a degree of torment, the sources of our greatest joys lying awkwardly close to those of our greatest pains. Nietzsche continued:Examine the lives of the best and most fruitful people and peoples and ask yourselves whether a tree that is supposed to grow to a proud height can dispense with bad weather and storms; whether misfortune and external resistance, some kinds of hatred, jealousy, stubbornness, mistrust, hardness, avarice and violence do not belong among the FAVORABLE conditions without which any great growth, even of virtue is scarcely possible.De Botton suggests that Nietzsche sought to correct the belief that fulfillment must be easy else it will not follow. To expect otherwise is a ruinous idea. Nietzsche perceived the interval between initial failure and subsequent success, the gap between who we wish one day to be and who we are at present to be occupied by pain, anxiety, envy and humiliation. The great danger of not expecting great hardship as part of experience on the way to fulfillment, thinking that success should come readily, without anguish, is that the challenges COULD have been overcome, IF we had been prepared for the savagery legitimately demanded by almost everything valuable.You will not hear talk like that at worksite wellness sessions at any corporations I know about but, why not, I wonder? This is just a single example of provocative, important philosophical musings that could energize a discussion and stimulate invaluable reflections and reassessments.To quote Nietzsche once more, “We should not feel embarrassed by our difficulties; only by our failure to grow anything beautiful from them. Difficulties are a critical prerequisite of fulfillment. Not everything which makes us feel better is good for us; not everything which hurts may be bad.”All good wishes.

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