In these pages, the authors of the widely-acclaimed Wellness Syndrome throw themselves headlong into the techniques of self-optimization, a burgeoning movement that seeks to transcend the limits placed on us as mere humans, whether the feebleness of our bodies or our mental incapacities.
Cederstrom and Spicer, devoted each month of a roller coaster year to a different way of improving themselves: January was Productivity, February their bodies, March their brains. June was for sex and September for money. Perhaps the trickiest was April, a month devoted to relationships, when their feelings for each other came under the microscope, with results that were both hilarious and painful. Carl thought Andre was only “dialing it in,” Andre felt Carl was too controlling.
In fact, both proved themselves willing guinea pigs in an extraordinary (and sometimes downright dangerous) range of techniques and technologies, had hitherto undertaken little by way of self-improvement. They had rarely seen the inside of a gym, let alone utilized apps that deliver electric shocks in pursuit of improved concentration. They wore head-bands designed to optimize sleep, and attempted to boost their memory through learning associative techniques (failing to be admitted to MENSA bit learning pi to 1,000 digits), trained for weightlifting competitions, wrote what they (still) hope might become a bestselling Scandinavian detective story, attended motivational seminars and tantra workshops, went on new-age retreats and man-camps, and experimented with sex toys and productivity drugs. Andre even addressed a London subway car whilst (nearly) naked in an attempt to overcome a negative body image.
Somewhat surprisingly, the two young professors survived this year of rigorous research. Further, they produced a hilarious and eye-opening book based upon it. Written in the form of two parallel diaries, Desperately Seeking Self-Improvement provides a biting analysis of the narcissism and individual competitiveness that increasingly pervades a culture in which social solutions are receding and individual self-improvement is the only option left.
Praise for Desperately Seeking Self-Improvement
"A comically committed exploration of current life-hacking wisdom in areas ranging from athletic and intellectual prowess to spirituality, creativity, wealth, and pleasure." —The New Yorker
"An absurdist masterpiece." —The Guardian
"Beautifully observed and incredibly conceived, this account of a self-imposed ordeal has the chilling quality of a true nightmare. It is the dark side of the moon of Tim Ferriss." —Tom McCarthy
"Two crazy people try numerous crazy strategies, all so I don't have to. I call that a result!"
—Lee Child, author
"A good-natured, thoughtful, and often comic joyride." —Kirkus Reviews
Praise for The Wellness Syndrome
“Carl Cederström and André Spicer’s brilliantly sardonic anatomy of this “wellness syndrome ”concentrates on the ways in which the pressure to be well operates as a moralising command and obliterates political engagement... These authors would no doubt agree that there is nothing wrong with being well or wanting to be well. But, as their deeply humane and persuasive book shows, being told to be well is a different matter entirely. A society where wellness is obligatory is a sick one. ” —Steven Poole, The Guardian
"When I read their angry, hilarious book, The Wellness Syndrome, I felt like I was being shaken awake from a dream. ” —Helen Rumbelow, The Times
“My underlying scepticism about society's single-minded quest for physical perfection was validated when I came across The Wellness Syndrome. Like me, the authors don't have any gripes about wellness per se… but what they are concerned about is how wellness has become an ideology. The more we focus on our own wellness, the book argues, the more we alienate others and the more isolated we become... By spending so much time looking inward, in a relentless pursuit for the ideal body and state of mind, we pay less attention to the wider world and its ills. ” —Gabrielle Monghan, Irish Independent
“Short, brilliant and bracing, The Wellness Syndrome is the Brave New World de nos jours, a mordant satire on our contemporary mores... I pray that the authors will put a lot of life coaches (and celebrity chefs and similar fraudsters) out of business. ” —Andy Martin, Literary Review
“The book’s great virtue is its lightness of theoretical touch, which combines Darwin-award style tales of idiocy with punchy commentary to make for the kind of readability conducive to cult status among undergraduates. ” —Gerald Moore, Radical Philosophy