Photo by Katerina Jerabkova. Source: Unsplash

How Byung-Chul Han foresaw the toxic positivity of coaches and the wellness industry

Lidia Zuin
9 min readDec 17, 2020

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Disclaimer: This article was originally published at TAB UOL in Portuguese.

It’s no newsflash that messages of positivity, self-help, or how to make your dream — being it a job, a thinner body, a relationship — are spreading through social networks. The coaching phenomena is recent in Brazil; it arrived here between the decades of 1990 and 2000, but only recently it grew stronger.

Although the practice is already banalized, there is always some new course or professional selling miracles, especially during the pandemic. Humor pages such as Dicas Anti-Coach, for instance, have turned this trend into joke or even into disclosure of possible frauds.

Likewise, Brazil has been following another movement that is already big in the United States — the wellness industry. With Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop and its water bottles with a crystal costing about R$300, we have seen the recovery of ancestral and spiritual practices that, however, are based on a new form of consumerism — from the experiences in the forest with native people costing more than R$6.000 to the selling of crystals originated from slavery enterprises.

In “Burnout Society”, Korean-German philosopher Byung-Chul Han makes an interesting reflection on this. In fact, neither the book or its concept are new, but that doesn’t mean we stopped falling into the traps flagged by Han a decade ago — and it is even worse now, during the pandemic.

The author argues that we live in times of exaggerated positivity, something that could even sound strange considering the current political, economic, and even the health scenario. Han states that interpreting such issues under a positivity light or making them a matter of opportunity is even more toxic than the previous command and control society win which we lived and that was described by Michel Foucault.

What Han suggests is thus that we live in an age in which psychoanalysis makes no sense anymore, because, according to his view, we no longer live in times of repression and prohibition. Yes, this is a controversial statement if we consider that there are rather “shades of freedom” that vary according to variants such as race, gender, religion and financial status, for…

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Lidia Zuin

Brazilian journalist, MA in Semiotics and PhD in Visual Arts. Researcher and essayist. Technical and science fiction writer.