For more than 50 years, Star Trek has boldly marched toward the future, exploring strange new worlds, examining our humanity, and imagining what’s next. Much of what once seemed like “treknology” has now become a routine part of everyday life. Flip-style communicators, touch-screen interfaces, voice-activated smart home devices — you may even be reading this article on your mini handheld computer complete with its own virtual digital assistant (Hey, Siri!).
The Star Trek universe has also looked at future life beyond the Bridge and Engineering Deck. This is on prominent display in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Its characters often engaged in a variety of forms of what’s now popularly known as “self-care” or “wellness,” an active “process of being aware and making choices that lead toward an outcome of optimal holistic health and well-being,” whether it’s your physical, mental, environmental, spiritual, social, or emotional health.
Today, wellness is a $4.2 trillion-dollar industry, but back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, TNG was envisioning its crewmembers actively pursuing healthy and fulfilling lives aboard the Enterprise-D. From Data’s artistic endeavors to Worf’s mok’bara classes, here are 10 times The Next Generation predicted the wellness boom.
Maintaining a healthy work/life balance is front and center in this episode. After intensely preparing for a meeting with the elocution-ally finicky Jarada, Captain Picard is worn out. Counselor Deanna Troi has a recommendation, “Captain, you need a diversion.” What better way than a visit to the newly augmented Holodeck? Immersed in 1940s San Francisco, Picard soaks up the times while role-playing his childhood literary hero, Detective Dixon Hill. It’s all great fun until the noir-ish bad guys can see The Arch, and then it’s back to the work-half of that work/life balance.
Lieutenant Commander Data’s extracurricular activities range from the purely artistic to the diagnostically intricate. He pushes his android programming one step further in “In Theory” by trying out a romantic relationship with Ensign Jenna D’Sora. In the background of the action, Data is also shown playing a flute in a recital at 10 Forward, and later, working on a painting in his quarters. On his journey to becoming more human, he’s learned that such pursuits are just as valuable, and valued, in the development of the self as other kinds of achievements.
There are many recreational spaces set aside on the Enterprise-D. For a ship capable of encountering every sort of lifeform and space scenario in the galaxy, a number of these spots are, not surprisingly, dedicated to physical fitness and well-being. Early episodes reveal that Chief Security Officer Worf teaches a regular class in mok’bara, a form of Klingon martial arts that’s similar to tai chi chuan. In “Second Chances,” Counselor Troi and Dr. Crusher are shown practicing mok’bara in their free time. It’s clear they’re regular students of the disciplined and centering movement style. And, well, it’s also a good opportunity to get in some time to chat and catch up!!
Sometimes, self-care is all about “me” time, escaping from the outside world and focusing on yourself. But other times, like in “The Nth Degree,” pairing that self-care with a little self-work is just what the doctor (or counselor) ordered. At the start of this episode, Lieutenant Barclay is performing in a 10 Forward production of the 19th-Century play Cyrano de Bergerac. He gives an admirable performance, thanks to some help from his acting coach, Dr. Crusher, and we learn that Barclay’s been working on becoming more comfortable with who he is by studying acting. Mega-heightened intelligence and a cranial hookup to the ship’s central computer confuse the confidence waters a bit later on for Barclay, but he’s off to a strong start otherwise.
Few episodes of the series dive as headfirst, or as entertainingly, into emotional wellness as “Cost of Living.” Lwaxana Troi, Deanna’s mother, is aboard the Enterprise ahead of her impending nuptials to a foreign minister she’s never met. Doubting her choice and looking to avoid all things wedding-related, she befriends young Alexander, Worf’s son, who is looking to avoid the rules his father is trying to impose on him. She relates to his plight, telling him, “Life’s true gift is the capacity to enjoy enjoyment.” To show him, she introduces him to a colony of free spirits on the Holodeck. There, they meet contrasting opposites, a juggler of worlds, and a mud bath that’s good for everyone. Over the course of the episode, Alexander learns of the importance of staying true to yourself, and of balancing the needs and feelings of others with a joyous heart of your own. And, of course, that if your husband-to-be isn’t into you showing up naked at your wedding, you show up naked anyway.
Most of the 24th-Century wellness moments in TNG come in spurts, a Holodeck trip here, or an anbo-jitsu match there. This episode, featuring Q banished from the Continuum and sentenced to live as a human being, sprinkles in a number of nods to characters taking time to self-care. We witness Counselor Troi’s choice of chocolate sundaes when she’s in an unhappy mood and Captain Picard sipping one of his signature Earl Greys during a quiet moment in his Ready Room. As Q struggles within the confines of humanity, Data reminds him that humanity is always striving “for new opportunities to improve itself.”
Practicing, or cultivating, gratitude is regarded by many in the wellness arena as a way to shift your perspective and experience towards more joy and fulfillment. It’s also an opportunity to hear some Klingon love poetry. In a small part of this episode, Worf succumbs to the Klingon version of the measles and is deeply embarrassed by his inability to overcome the illness on his own. Dr. Pulaski helps him save face, and to express his thanks, he asks her to join him in a fabled Klingon tea ceremony. It pleases Worf to express his gratitude to her in this way, and Dr. Pulaski is excited to try the deadly-to-humans tea (with an antidote) and take in some of those romantic warrior verses.
Even starship captains need to get away once in a while. After serving as a mediator in a weeks-long trade dispute, everyone can see that Captain Picard needs a holiday, except for himself. Troi prescribes a vacation and Dr. Crusher follows suit with a week’s shore leave, somewhere where he can “relax and be pampered.” He’d prefer an upcoming symposium on rogue star clusters. The Bridge crew wear him down, and soon he’s on Risa, just trying to read his book alone in the sun, scantily clad attendants be damned. Eventually, the trip takes an adventurous archaeological turn, more to the captain’s liking. There’s a scheming Ferengi, the alluring Vash, and two mysterious Vorgons from the future, searching for a device they claim can stop a star’s fusion reactions. Is Vash on the up-and-up? Are the Vorgons? Just the kind of vacation Picard didn’t realize he needed.
For seven seasons, Deanna Troi serves as ship’s counselor and de facto wellness coordinator. In “Thine Own Self,” she begins a personal growth journey of her own. Following a class reunion and seeing Dr. Crusher command the Bridge, she decides to study for the Bridge Officer's Test. She explains to Riker, enjoying some leisure time playing his trombone in his quarters, that she’s “exploring a whole new side of myself.” Accepting the realities and sacrifices that come with command prove challenging, but in stretching herself, Troi is taking an important step in strengthening her holistic health.
Poker, Sickbay, a little night dead-heading, voices in the quarters, repeat. Poker, Sickbay.... In “Cause and Effect,” the Enterprise is caught in a temporal causality loop. All the crew knows is that their daily activities are starting to feel a little too familiar. As the ship experiences loop after loop, we’re reminded of some of the more leisurely pursuits of the crew, particularly poker. Throughout the series, the crew gathers for regular games. This temporal loop certainly wasn’t foreshadowing a new kind of wellness pursuit, but it’s nice to think that, 300 years from now, even in the far reaches of space, people will still recognize the value of things like relishing chocolate desserts, studying the art of performance, and making time to bolster holistic health through gamesmanship, camaraderie, and fun.
Star Trek: The Next Generation imagines a future of not only humanity’s outward exploration and discovery but also its inward journey.
This article was originally published on February 26, 2020.
Catherine L. Hensley (she/her) is a freelance writer and editor. Her favorite episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation is “Data’s Day.” You can find her @NYDollsTheNovel