As students at the École Normale Supérieure, Sartre and his close friends had more important things to contemplate than their personal wellness. A generous observer might have described their diet as varied: a massive intake of stodgy books alternated with laxatives, consisting of cigarettes, coffee and hard liquor. In a world defined by absurdity, there were more acute issues to deal with than perfecting one’s physical wellbeing. For Sartre’s set, being students was to engage promiscuously with thinking, and to take risks with one’s mind – not to waste time thinking about how to eat correctly.

Slightly less than a century later we find a new trend at North American universities. To shape their lives in an image of wellbeing, thousands of students across the United States are encouraged to sign ‘wellness contracts’