The Seven Deadly Sins is a seven-part series developed by CCEPA with the support of the Segelberg trust and the Halifax Central Library. It explores the personal and collective consequences of our thoughts and actions as we continue to grapple with the age old temptations of Lust, Greed, Gluttony, Envy, Pride, Wrath, and Sloth. In Part Four of the series, Poison Envy: How Do Social Media and the Wellness Industry Convince us we are Sick?, Dr. Stan Kutcher will provide his thoughts on the role of the wellness industry as it is played out on social media, and how that relationship ultimately convinces us that we are not well. CCEPA’s Program Coordinator, Jesse Hiltz recently sat down with Dr. Kutcher to get a sense of what we can expect on February 28.

Jesse Hiltz: What do you think when you hear the word “envy” and how has its meaning changed over time?

Dr. Kutcher: It goes back to Biblical prescriptions found in the ten commandments. At that time the construct was not coveting, which means strongly desiring material things that other people own, it was a prelude to not taking them. So not only should you not take them, you shouldn’t think about taking them, or you shouldn’t think about doing a bad thing. The reason that you could stop thinking about it was that you could control the desire, or your intellect was superior to your limbic system in that you control your desire, which is called envy.

JH: What does envy mean for us today?

Dr. Kutcher: I think envy is still very much with us in the 21st Century, but it has changed in a substantially different way. For many of us in the Western world, we live in a society of superfluous abundance we have so many different things that its less of a challenge to covet, to desire things that other people have, and this envy has morphed from desiring things to desiring a construct that I think can be summed up in the word “wellness,” or why aren’t we as good as that person? Why don’t we look as good as that person looks? Why don’t we have the wonderful, positive, pleasant life that that person has? Why don’t we have good, happy thoughts all the time? So this rise of self absorption as the key marker of what we call “health” has led to the construct of envy being turned away from material things to challenges of the spirit, challenges of the soul or challenges of why I can’t I be as good as somebody else.

This discrepancy between what we are told we should be like, and what we really are like, is this issue of the desire, of the coveting of this ideal, an unreachable ideal which has become the new envy.

JH: What is the relationship between social media, wellness, and envy?

Dr. Kutcher: One of the roles that social media plays in this envy paradigm, is that it is an enabler, it allows us to create idealized versions of ourselves and let everybody else see how wonderful we are. It also confronts us with images of others who are more wonderful than we actually are. This discrepancy creates a host of negative emotions, and the reason for those negative emotions is that it is driven by a desire to be better than, or at least as good as, these idealized images of others and if not that, products, because social media lets us enter the world of marketing and sales—of products that are guaranteed to make us so much better than we actually are. This discrepancy between what we are told we should be like, and what we really are like, is this issue of the desire, of the coveting of this ideal, an unreachable ideal which has become the new envy.

JH: You believe social media and the wellness industry convinces us we’re sick. How so?

Dr. Kutcher: We are bombarded with images and expectations of “wellness” as an idealized frame of the human mind and the human body. At the same time, we are bombarded with the expectations that good health means only to have positive emotions and that negative emotions are a sign of ill health, which could not be further from the truth. Negative emotions are actually the signal that we need to modify our behaviours and ourselves in order to maintain and achieve good health. So it’s this discrepancy between what we think is the ideal and what we know is the real which underlies much of the mental malaise that we see particularly amongst young people.

JH: If you were to create a PSA on social media that was aimed at adolescents, what would it say?

Dr. Kutcher: Life happens between the plans and life is a journey that is enriched by not knowing where you’re going. If you don’t have a map, you get to explore. If you don’t have a phone which limits your ability to explore new ideas, friendships and how you relate to others and how others relate to you in real life it actually limits your ability to get lost, you lose one of the most important and amazing components of life which is finding out there can be better places along the road. So put down the phone, explore life, and have a lot more fun.

Dr. Stan Kutcher is a Professor of Psychiatry at Dalhousie University, a renowned expert in adolescent mental health, and leader in mental health research advocacy.

Poison Envy: How Do Social Media and the Wellness Industry Convince us we’re Sick?
7pm, February 28, 2018
Paul O’Regan Hall
Halifax Central Library.

Watch it live at ccepa.ca

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Transcribed and arranged by Dalhousie University Practicum Placement Intern Jacqueline Lee.