Reflections on REALITY Wellness, One Year Later


Rachel Saunders, a REALITY Wellness 2016 alumna, is a futurist who explores shifts in culture and commerce for leading global brands and institutions. A human rights advocate, she serves on the Executive Committee of the Gender Equality Foundation, an organization aiding the United Nations and other entities promoting gender parity throughout the world.

It’s fun to watch how people react when they hear the word “wellness.” When interviewing research participants for a report on the topic in 2015—a report that would eventually lead to my journey through Israel with REALITY Wellness—the responses tended to play out one of two ways:

  1. Eyes light up. Meditation changed their life. Kale is their religion.
  2. Eyes roll. They’re sick of hearing about healing crystals. Their friend is studying to be a shaman and they never see him anymore.

This is an oversimplification, of course, but in truth, the global wellness market has grown so large—upwards of $3.7 trillion this year—that it was only a matter of time before it became a source of both celebration and scrutiny. But, digging deeper in 2015, my team and I found that whether someone loved or hated how trendy wellness was becoming, a major shift was taking place: unlike Gen X, millennials were prioritizing health over wealth. An overwhelming 75% said they would rather be healthy than wealthy. This value shift is one that still rings true today and one that the REALITY team was wise to tap into, as it’s becoming a defining tenet of this generation.

The popular millennial mythology is that they’re such an idealistic group that wealth and material goods just aren’t that important to them, but there are actually more pragmatic factors at play in the wellness revolution. After coming of age during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, young generations are highly wary of financial institutions and other systems that failed them. In an uncertain economic and political climate, many are rationalizing that the best place to invest is not in the stock market or sector that may not be relevant in the future (for instance, 72% said they worry that the healthcare system won’t be able to support their generation when they’re old) but rather in themselves. Instead of placing their trust in traditional institutions, they’re turning to health and wellness to gain a sense of control over their lives and futures. As they see it, self-betterment is recession proof.

Young people are also embracing wellness because it serves as an entry point to something they crave even more than control: community. In an era in which technology has made it easier than ever to connect with others, millennials feel that it’s never been harder to form a true connection. Community used to be a given, but now it’s a luxury. When they invest their time and money in wellness, they’re not just thinking about their own futuresm but that of those around them; two-thirds said they promote wellness to create a better society. They feel that wellness experiences give them an opportunity to come together in-person and connect as a community over something positive, which has become more important to them than ever due to the feelings of detachment their immersion in technology has fostered.

Community is something the REALITY team instinctively recognizes and artfully cultivates. When I embarked on REALITY Wellness 2016, I thought I was going to learn more about a subject I loved through the lens of Israel. What I left with was an awareness that true wellness is impossible to achieve without a community to share it with. Every experience was designed to help us reflect on wellbeing, whether floating in the Dead Sea, dining on Chef Sebbag’s organic fare (which made me think maybe, just maybe, I could be vegan) or communing with a higher power in the Ramon Crater, was made more powerful by the fact that we shared it with peers whose values aligned with our own.

It’s been a year since I returned from that transformative trip amid one of the most stunning landscapes I’ve ever seen, and the people are still what stand out the most. Thanks to support from the Schusterman team, the community didn’t dissolve after Israel. Not a week goes by that we don’t come together in some from and connect—for Shabbat dinners, for a meditation or for no reason at all. If it took interviewing people about crystals to help me understand the value of community and how rare it is in modern life, then maybe they really do have healing powers.

The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation is proud to empower emerging leaders to explore their values, identity and new ways to strengthen their communities. We believe that as we work together to repair the world, it is important to share our diverse experiences and perspectives along the way. We encourage the expression of personal thoughts and reflections here on the Schusterman blog. Each post reflects solely the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation, its partner organizations or all program participants.