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by Donald B. Ardell, Ph. D.
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Wellness in the Headlines
(Don's Report to the World)

REAL Wellness: A Golden Opportunity for Reinventing Destination Spas as Pleasure Centers for Learning to Thrive As Improved Men and Women

Sunday February 22, 2015


On this day and a few that follow, I will be in Freiburg, Germany speaking to spa leaders at the 25-year anniversary celebration conference of the German Wellness Association. I will describe a new kind of spa, one geared to the interests of new generations, suited to new purposes. Among the latter is programming that supports people in becoming better human beings. Does anyone doubt the need?

Freiburg, GermanyMy session and a follow-up workshop will also be an opportunity for Gen Y and others to have an immersion in the elements of REAL wellness, that is, the nature of communications for positive health. Participants will have a chance to assess program modules for learning to assess and pursue well being beyond the margins of non-sickness, stress, worries and medical management. Participants will learn about the nature of improved man and woman - humans who are “self-poised, independent, candid and free, people who will observe, investigate, experiment and demonstrate, use their sense and their senses and keep their minds as open as the day to the hints and suggestions of nature.”

The words quoted above are those of the fabled orator and pioneer of REAL wellness, Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) about those who can expand the boundaries of human functioning. This kind of development programming can shape a new generation of well-being programming for clients of all ages, consistent with living life as fully as practically imaginable. Step one is becoming aware of the possibilities.

The session is not for theorists; it’s for the practical and ambitious spa planners who want to know what REAL wellness can mean for their jobs, their business, their customers and their passions. The bottom line for every participant: What do I have to do in terms of actions and decisions?  

Warming up the Crowd

I will do a few ice-breaking activities to get the attendees in the mood for creativity and fun interaction. The first of these is to ask a few questions of the audience.

I’ll ask who fits into the category of Gen Y. Then I’ll make this comment: “If you just raised your hand, raise it again if you prefer the company of 60, 70 or 80 year-old folks and if you enjoy dating hotties who were born before 1950 and if you just love shuffleboard?”

Then I’ll say: “For everyone here who was born before 1950 who would love to hang out and socialize with Gen Y folks, if Gen Y folks welcomed and delighted in your company, raise your hand.”

I’ll add: “This might shock you but I was born before 1950—and I really have no interest in hanging out with Gen Y, and I doubt if there are many old or young folks who ever think about how cool it would be to get down and boogie with the nice people at the other end of the age spectrum.”

And then I’ll get to the point of the group participation exercise: “But, the two groups share a few interests—and one of those interests concerns us today.  We’re here because, Gen Y or not, we all care about the current viability and future prosperity of spas. And today, spas do NOT appeal as they could to Gen Y.”

At this point, I’ll explain why and note that REAL wellness can change all that.  

My Mission

My mission is to sketch spa wellness programs in a new way, in a manner not common to date—- to provide an interpretation of wellness that will appeal to a new generation (old generations still welcome). I will sketch a vision of the spa of tomorrow—next year, perhaps, by offering a wellness menu that will transform the spa from a boring, been there/done that/not interesting institution originally created to attract old rich sedentary geezers, into a WOW—this spa will help me revitalize my life—or at least provide one hell of a good time!

I want to talk about spas as places where Gen Y and others can be inspired to think about becoming improved men and women, about REAL wellness, flourishing and thriving, happiness, meaning and purpose, freedom, tolerance and health that has little to do with treatments/healing/relief or services and products. Yes, keep all these things as spa offerings, but add new features or reasons to go to spas that are not associated with spas today.

The bottom line: REAL wellness is about the quality of human experience. Seeing the future not as a gift but as an achievement. Exuberance and the other REAL wellness dimension are keys to unlocking the chains of normalcy, the cult of average.

A Diversion—Also a Warm Up Activity

Before reviewing the tantalizing and wholesome ingredients for reinventing destination spa resorts as quality of life training centers, a model founded on reason, exuberance, athleticism and liberty, I want to give you a warning—this kind of spa may not be for everybody.

I’ve written many books (15) and nearly 1000 newsletters, hundreds of speeches and thousands of essays at—but I’ve never had as much fun writing or talking about wellness as I did while creating my new book, the one on WOs with Dr. Grant Donovan of Australia, a polymath who is a bit of an outrageous genius.

So before continuing, I’ll offer the same warning to participants in this conference that we wrote for readers of our new book: WOs: The Fun Way to Live Well and Die Healthy.


Please do not read this if you are easily offended or unsettled by different perspectives on religion, politics, drugs, sex, death and meaninglessness.

But if you love to challenge your thinking and are looking to live a life rich in Wellness Orgasms (WO’s), then this is for you.

Religious zealots, New Age crackpots, cult members, Republicans and Tea Partiers, spiritualists, Luddites, despots, people who mistreat animals and anyone else predisposed to intolerance and irrationality should be especially careful when reading the Book of WO. Why? Because we rather delight in challenging customs, traditions, policies and social norms infected with pernicious elements that spread misery and inflict great harm. We take accusations of blasphemy as compliments.

We are freedom fighters for joy and personal sovereignty in a randomly assembled world without inherent meaning.   

WO’s are about having fun and learning to embrace inherently meaningless lives with enthusiasm and exuberance. We offer a mindset of REAL wellness as an alternative to the prevailing orthodoxy that seeks only to avoid disease. The term “wellness” has been hijacked by the medical world to mean the absence of disease, by the corporate world to mean shifting the cost of medical care and by the drug industry to mean treating the symptoms of physical and mental dysfunctions.  

REAL wellness is about the active pursuit of an orgasmic-worthy life of positive sensations and the full experience of being alive. You should never feel guilty for having experienced explosive sensations wherein you tingle all over with unbounded sensations of happiness, fulfillment and contentment. Since such cataclysmic sensations never linger long, they should be pursued wisely and integrated into a not-so-normal part of daily life.   

The WO philosophy rests on a conscious awareness that there are no ultimate truths, only scientific facts in the meaningless chaos of life. Only science reveals what little we know about the universe as it is, oblivious to our presence and our fate, neither ally nor foe, just reality.

Our tongue-in-cheek warning goes on a bit but this gives the idea—we (and I on this occasion and all others) delight in free speech and being a little outrageous when so appears to serve a good cause.

In this presentation, I will outline the key ideas associated with the nature of great spas in the future that will promote the following:

Here are a few examples of activities that spas might offer that fall within the four REAL wellness dimensions:

REASON: Citizen education centers - C/T, science classes from A (astronomy) to Z (zoology), accreditations.

EXUBERANCE: Museums, artist studios & courses, music festivals/opportunities for learning to play instruments, comedy clubs, open mike nights, playhouse, acting classes & performance skills training.

ATHLETICISM: Athletic centers - soccer fields, golf, etc - host tournaments/competitions.

LIBERTY: Lectures on current and historical issues and events, hosting of debates on freedom of speech.

SPAS that offer such programs, especially dealing with the reason and liberty dimensions, will gain a new level of standing in their communities as well as attract a new breed of spa goer.

There will be added pride for employees to be associated with an institution that seeks to encourage and support improved men and women.

Where on earth do we not need programs that, in a secular way, promote improved moral guidance toward a reasonably decent society? Spas can offer insights on humane approaches for the pursuit of happiness, mixed with poetry, art and social vision. Everything associated with such RW-focused spas will bring beneficial public attention to the destinations spas.


Attendees who find these possibilities of interest that can only be sketched in the 30 minute keynote will have an opportunity to participate the next day in a two-hour workshop. This is how the workshop was described in the program materials:

All this is appropriate for destination spas in the context of current trends highlighted repeatedly by Global Wellness Summit, the lead spa organization for shaping global wellness at destination spas. The program for Gen Y is consistent with the trends forecast amid worries about the global economy, financial instability, rising inequalities, climate change, aging populations, threats to peace and disharmony among states.  Spas could/should host forums on all of these matters of concern to all.

The bottom line for every participant in this workshop. What do I have to do in terms of actions and decisions? To do so with these key Gen Y-friendly objectives and concepts in mind:

  • To comprehend the nature of improved man and woman

  • To consider the existential nature of living to flourish

  • To reassess the significance of health—and seek more (e.g., to enrich the quality of human existence)

  • To recognize that wellness today is not historic wellness—and should not be the form of wellness going forward

  • To appreciate and take control of REAL wellness dimensions - and make RW the future of spas

Another view of FreibergNo need to abandon an established revenue stream. But, add a new element—one that in time will take over and become the image of the progressive spas of the 21st century—improved men and women, humans not satisfied with coping and relief but who wish to flourish with exuberance and joy, pursue added purpose and meaning, knowledge, freedom and love of life.  

The old health spa was once appropriate. There was no alternative, no demand for more. Health was THE market for the spa industry. But, it’s a new world now—2015 is here, and Gen Y folks are not like grandma and grandpa, not even like mom and dad. Spas, too, must evolve, adapt and take new forms, not to survive but to thrive.

But helping Gen Y to thrive, spas will thrive too.

REAL wellness is the future. To paraphrase Charles Darwin, there is grandeur in this RW view of life.

For those reading about this at SeekWellness, all I can add is this: “Wish you were here.”

Be well and look on the bright side.

Signed Don Ardell

(Ed. Note: Views expressed in this and other columns are those of the author and not necessarily those of the SeekWellness Editorial Board.)

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