Last updated: 23 December 1998
It is certainly not true that the population can be easily divided into
those who lead healthy lifestyles, and those who do not: most people's
patterns are mixed, with both good and bad areas of life.
... 'circumstances' - not only socio-economic circumstances and the
external environment, but also the individual's psycho-social environment
- carry rather more weight, as determinants of health, than healthy or
unhealthy behaviours. There is no doubt that the four behaviours examined,
and in particular smoking, are relevant to health. They have most effect,
however, when the social environment is good: rather less, if it is already
unhealthy. Unhealthy behaviour does not reinforce disadvantage to the same
extent as healthy behaviour increases advantage. This seems to suggest
that the prior effect on health is the general lifestyle associated with
economic or occupational position. Only in the more favourable circumstances
is there 'room' for considerable damage or improvement by the adoption
of voluntary health-related habits.
The concept of lifestyle inherently means ways or styles of living that
are not the same for all people. Ways or patterns of living involve widely
different combinations of specific behavioral practices that may characterize
subgroups of the population. Preoccupation with specific behavioral practices
interferes with the process of obtaining knowledge about the health enhancing
or health damaging effects of different patterns of daily life. It also
ignores the cultural and situational determinants of lifestyles and the
importance of realistic options for living in wys that may be more health
Green consumerism generally, and 'healthy' products and lifestyles in
particular, contain quite precise notions about how an individual should
consider his or her well-being. Not only is the market-place celebrated
but an understanding of the 'natural body' itself becomes fetishised and
idolised. Normality seems to have wholly dispensed with bodily illness
and pain. Perfection is the norm, and one that can be gained through acquiring
the correct products and perfecting the body.
People can try to eat the correct things, take the correct amount of
exercise, worry less and so forth. But in the end fate or destiny is seen
as taking its toll. People die, to use a commonly used phrase, 'when their
The satisfactions in smoking and drinking and driving are not private
pleasures. Even if they were, habits would still be hard to change because
they are locked into life styles. But most habits, good and bad, are social,
rooted in community life.
... each kind of community is a thought world, expressed in its own
thought style, penetrating the minds of its members, defining their experience,
and setting the poles of their moral understanding.
Why do we make a distinction between socially unacceptable and socially
acceptable lifestyles, even though both may lead to disease and dysfunction?
We excoriate the smoker but congratulate the skier. Yet both skiing and
smoking may lead to injury, may be costly, and are clearly risky. We have
created a new medical speciality to take care of sports injuries, an acknowledgment
of the hazardous sequelae. And though there are no doubt benefits to exercise
and sports, the literature on the complications of some activities is such
that were they drugs, they would probably have been banned by the Food
and Drug Administration years ago. (...)
To a greater or lesser degree, the project of the self becomes translated
into one of the possession of desired goods and the pursuit of artificially
framed styles of life.
Achieving control over change, in respect to lifestyle, demands an engagement
with the outer social world rather than a retreat from it.
Both life-planning and the adoption of lifestyle options become (in
principle) integrated with bodily regimes. It would be quite short-sighted
to see this phenomenon only in terms of changing ideals of bodily appearance
(such as slimness or youthfulness), or as solely brought about by the commodifying
influence of advertising. We become responsible for the design of our own
bodies, and in a certain sense noted above are forced to do so the more
post-traditional the social contexts in which we move.
Addiction signals a particular mode of control over parts of one's day-to-day
life - and also over the self. The specific importance of addiction can
be understood in the following way. Addictions has to be understood in
terms of a society in which tradition has more thoroughly been swept away
than ever before and in which the reflexive project of self correspondingly
assumes an especial importance. Where large areas of a person's life are
no longer set by pre-existing patterns and habits, the individual is continually
obliged to negotiate life-style options. Moreover - and this is crucial
- such choices are not just 'external' or marginal aspects of [Seitenwechsel]
the individual's attitudes, but define who the individual 'is'. In other
words, life-style choices are constitutive of the reflexive narrative of
While emancipatory politics is a politics of life chances, life politics
is a politics of lifestyle. Life politics is the politics of a reflexively
mobilised order - the system of late modernity - which, on an individual
and collective level, has radically altered the existential parameters
of social activity. It is a politics of self-actualisation in a reflexively
ordered environment, where that reflexivity links self and body to systems
of global scope. (...) [L]ife politics concerns political issues which
flow from processes of self-actualisation in post-traditional contexts,
where globalising influences intrude deeply into the reflexive project
of the self, and conversely where processes of self-realisation influence
The difficulties of living in a secular risk culture are compounded
by the importance of lifestyle choices.
Life-planning takes account of a 'package' of risks rather than calculating
the implications of distinct segments of risky behaviour. Taking certain
risks in pursuit of a given lifestyle, in other words, is accepted to be
within 'tolerable limits' as part of the overall package.
A lifestyle involves a cluster of habits and orientations, and hence
has a certain unity - important to a continuing sense of ontological security
- that connects options in a more or less ordered pattern. (...) [T]he
selection or creation of lifestyles is influenced by group pressures and
the visibility of role models, as well as by socioeconomic circumstances.
A lifestyle can be defined as a more or less integrated set of practices
which an individual embraces, not only because such practices fulfil utalitarian
needs, but because they give material form to a particular narrative of
In a world of alternative lifestyle options, strategic [life planning
- kursiv] becomes of special importance. Like lifestyle patterns, life
plans of one kind or another are something of an inevitable concomitant
of post-traditional social forms. Life plans are the substantial content
of the reflexively organised trajectory of the self. Life-planning is a
means of preparing a course of future actions mobilised in terms of the
self's biography. We may also speak here of the existence of personal calendars
or [life-plan calendars - kursiv], in relation to which the personal time
of the lifespan is handled.
Lifestyles are characteristically attached to, and expressive of, specific
milieux of action. Lifestyle options are thus often decisions to become
immersed in those milieux, at the expense of the possible alternatives.
A society which denies that I am my brother's and sister's keeper, which
forces a dog-eat-dog life-style upon me (or, if you prefer another animal
metaphor, forces me into an unending rat race), which has my comfort depend
on the poverty of Latin America and the Third World, which rewards asocial
work, condemns people to be second- or third-generation welfare recipients,
which dresses me in clothes made by sweated labor in former European colonies,
which does not force me out onto the street in my free time to cheer some
Führer but likes me to keep myself in line in front of a TV with a
can of beer - oh, there are as many ways to feel oppressed as there are
to skin a cat.
A voluntary simplification of life-styles is not beyond our abilities,
but it is probably outside our desires.
We'll look for almost any reason not to change our attitudes; the inertia
of the established order is powerful. If we can think of a plausible, or
even implausible, reason to discount environmental warnings, we will.
The emphasis on 'healthy' individual lifestyle, on individual responsibility
for health, and on the assumption that individual behaviour can - if backed
up by educational measures - resist the powerful social forces acting upon
it, can be seen as an attempt to legitimize cost-containment arrangements
and, thus, divert attention from social reforms.
Individual life style changes are unlikely to occur, at more than a
minimum level, without the economic and structural support which is necessary
as a foundation for such changes.
This is the beauty that emerges from self-confidence, class confidence.
That says, I am not born to please. I am born to be pleased.
The lifestyle of a social group characterises the totality of patterns of meaning and forms of expression which are produced by a group in the course of collective efforts to cope with the demands and contradictions of the social structures and situations common to all members of that group. The lifestyle brings together efforts related to the demands made, i.e. the external (social, political, economic and cultural) conditions and efforts related to the subjective situation and condition. In the lifestyle is expressed under what conditions a social group acts or reacts in a particular way, i.e. the lifestyle tells us in which directions a group tends to develop its behaviour in the ongoing process of coping with the conditions in which they live. These tendencies, in the forms of common social values, norms, language forms, interaction rituals etc., provide a reservoir for individuals or subgroups which they can draw on for their personal and social identity; it makes it possible for them to give some sense and meaning to their specific situation.
The lifestyle of an individual characterises the totality of normative behavioural structures which is developed in the course of his or her life in the ongoing interaction with his or her social and natural environment. Subjective motivation and also potential action are expressed through the lifestyles and are used by the individual according to social situations. The individual's lifestyle contains variations, additions to and omissions from the collective lifestyle which are specific to that individual's personality; nevertheless the individual remains linked to his particular social group - i.e. any change in his or her lifestyle is bound by the collectively developed framework - unless, with this change, there is also a change of the social group, or it is the group which wishes to undergo such a change.
This concept of lifestyles creates a close link between the living conditions of an individual, his activities and socially formed strategies for coping with life. Characteristic for this is the linking of individual and collective lifestyles in relation to the particular socio-structural conditions in which the individual lives. Individual behaviour is understood as being largely socially determined - with the implication, among others, that to change it, social changes are necessary. Thus the message for health promotion and health education is that integrative strategies for prevention and intervention must be developed - strategies whose chief characteristic is that they link up the various social sectors and are also effective within them.
Wenzel, Eberhard (1983), Lifestyles and living conditions and their impact on health - A report of the meeting. In: Scottish Health Education Group, European Monographs in Health Education Research. Vol. 5. Edinburgh (SHEG), 1-18, here: 7-8
Copyright © by Eberhard Wenzel, 1997-2001