The Mag’s “Power of…” series is a series of interviews that highlight our interviewee’s status as an industry leader. We speak to them about their experience, insight and the “power” of their initiatives in relation to everyday life. In February, we speak to Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group’s Group Director of Spa and Wellness, Jeremy McCarthy, about the power of wellness.
I studied psychology. Why? I was interested in understanding human motivation and wellbeing.
But the study of psychology is focused on the negative aspects of the way our minds are. In 1997, Martin Seligman, then the president of the American Psychological Association, set a mission that psychology should also focus on the things that make life worth living. Why aren't we studying more about happiness, joy, meaning in life, accomplishing goals, motivation, and character strengths?
I got my Master of Applied Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. Positive psychology is the science of studying the positive aspects of mental wellbeing. It applies to the wellness industry, because it's on the positive side of the spectrum of not waiting for things to go wrong, and then figuring out how to fix them. Instead, it’s about how we amplify the areas that are going right. I've been working in spa and wellness for about 30 years now; I joined the Mandarin Oriental Group and moved to Hong Kong from New York about five and a half years ago to help us focus more on just that.
“When was the last time you spent an hour doing nothing?”
The easiest way to define wellness is to contrast it with illness. Instead of taking people that are unwell and getting them back to a baseline of not being sick, wellness is the opposite – it’s an ongoing pursuit of trying to improve your general wellbeing, mindset, physical health, potential for mobility and relationships, without an immediate necessity. But human beings are adverse to losing what we have, and not as motivated to go out and gain what we could acquire. So it’s a challenge to get people to be future-minded enough to think about investing in their longevity.
There are five areas of wellness to improve on. One is nourishment and finding the right sources of energy for our bodies. Then there’s movement, because the modern world is very sedentary. The next one is stillness; our minds are processing more information than ever before, so everybody needs the ability to disconnect from the information stream and allow our minds to settle. Then there's connection, which is about relationships and having a sense of community. And lastly, wellbeing, which is about feeling good in our minds and our hearts.
At Mandarin Oriental, we draw heavily from ancient Eastern philosophies and tradition. Master Hu, a Shaolin monk, teaches Chinese tea ceremony at The Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Sanya. He taught me this: when you prepare and drink tea, you're using very hot water, so you have to be careful and present and aware, or you could burn yourself. And so, the process is a natural antidote to our hectic lifestyles. We have an opportunity to expose our guests to new experiences when they're outside of their normal routines – first yoga classes, first personal training sessions, first spa treatments. When we can impact them in a way that goes beyond the length of their stay with us, that's the highest praise that we can receive.
In 2020, we’re doing a lot about a break from technology. We've loved technology in last decade, but we are starting to see social media’s impact on our wellbeing and how it affects our political discourse in society. A direct response to this is the mindfulness trend. The faster the pace of change in society, the more we need to observe the way our minds are working to recognise whether our automatic responses might or might not make sense to the modern context of how the world has changed. The problem with technology is not that it's bad; it's that it's too good, right? It’s so good that it pulls us away from real world relationships, away from sleep, and away from moving our bodies…
…which is another thing we’re focusing on movement. Almost 100% of our spa guests have the same aches and pains, because again, we're all looking down at our technology and not moving enough. We’re looking forward to partnering with other like-minded companies to come up with specialised programmes that cater to this concern.
People also often think of the spa as a physical experience (work out the kinks in my muscles, relax my body), focusing on the physical aspects of the experience (the facilities, the product ingredients). But after a treatment I find that I have fresh ideas, or have resolved a problem, because I've settled my mind long enough to allow it to figure things out. Think about this: when was the last time you spent an hour doing nothing? To me, spas are one of the only healing institutions that people look forward to going to, enjoy, and want to return to. We all need places to go where we can feel like we’re being taken care of.
The culture of a company
is driven by how senior management behaves and the lifestyle they set for themselves. People spend most of their waking hours at work, and they’re not content to spend most of their time in a negative environment. When leadership considers the wellbeing of their colleagues, employees that are more engaged, more productive and more loyal to that organisation. Our colleague wellness programme exposes everyone to different ideas of wellness, which we try and make as a part of our lifestyle in the office.
And for parents,
being 100% present with your kids is key. One of the things I do (I think of it as a meditation) is “just be a parent”. Every morning for 15 minutes, I sit with my kids and engage them in whatever they want to talk about or whatever they want to do – no phones, no distractions. We don't do this often enough.
It’s human nature
to strive to be better than wherever we are. Wellness is something accessible to people if they are motivated enough to go after it. And for those that are, there are incredible things that they can unlock for the quality of their lives.
If you’re looking to shake things up in 2020, then read about TBWA/Hong Kong Jan Cho’s take on the power of disruption
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