What is Wellness?

Wellness. It is a trigger word for some, and a trendy term for others. But what is wellness? How do we define wellness as a society? And how can YOU achieve wellness? Is it impossible to achieve? Or is wellness easier to achieve than ever…?

Dictionary.com1 defines wellness as the following:

  1. the quality or state of being healthy in body and mind, especially as the result of deliberate effort.
  2. an approach to healthcare that emphasizes preventing illness and prolonging life, as opposed to emphasizing treating diseases.

Pharmacy giant Pfizer2 states that “Wellness is the act of practicing healthy habits on a daily basis to attain better physical and mental health outcomes, so that instead of just surviving, you’re thriving.”

It’s clear that health is more than simply physical fitness; more and more people are coming awake to the concept that health involves mental and emotional stability and security, as well as having rights to certain freedoms that all persons deserve. This means of course that the definition of health is changing, and changes regularly to suit the society of the time.

Perhaps wellness goes even deeper than a society as a whole, and comes down to perspective. What does wellness mean to you? It may mean something completely different to someone else, even the people who are close to you. If wellness is depending on not only surviving but thriving, it must be something unique to each individual person. What helps one person thrive may only be survival to another, while one person’s survival may be what causes another to thrive. Take pizza for example, as a part of wellness. What if for one person, pizza is the only food they have available, because of where they stand on the street and beg for food or money? That’s their mode to survive, good or bad judgments aside. What if someone walking into the same pizza store has saved up in order to purchase a pizza for their entire family, waiting two weeks more or less to eat the pizza? To them, having pizza may be a sign of moving beyond survival and into the realm of thriving. And what about the person who orders pizza delivery every single Friday, like clockwork, just because they can? They have friends coming over to watch a big game, play a card game, or game on tv or console.

Who here is thriving and who is surviving? And what would each person think of how the others feel about their view on what survival is compared to thriving?

Wellness can mean different things to different people, but most will agree that it is a multi-faceted concept. Wellness can have what we call dimensions, levels or degrees or certain portions (much like pieces of a pizza pie!). again, there is no real consensus on how many dimensions there are. Professionals seem unable to agree on the keys or dimensions of wellness, which rather makes sense given that there are 7billion or more people on the same planet, trying to survive and/or thrive.

The World Health Organization or WHO3 is renowned for its work on defining health and wellness, and protecting the rights of human beings to maintain and/or achieve health and wellness. Because of this, their organization’s definitions are referred to by professionals as a standardized world-wide accepted meaning. WHO considers health to mean the following:

  1. Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity (WHO Constitution).
  2. The extent to which an individual or a group is able to realize aspirations and satisfy needs, and to change or cope with the environment. Health is a resource for everyday life, not the objective of living; it is a positive concept, emphasizing social and personal resources as well as physical capabilities (Health Promotion: A Discussion Document, Copenhagen: WHO 1984).
  3. A state characterized by anatomic, physiologic and psychological integrity; ability to perform personally valued family, work and community roles; ability to deal with physical, biologic, psychological and social stress a feeling of well-being; and freedom from the risk of disease and untimely death (J. Stokes et al. “Definition of terms and concepts applicable to clinical preventive medicine”, J Common Health, 1982; 8:33-41).
  4. A state of equilibrium between humans and the physical, biologic and social environment, compatible with full functional activity ( JM. Last, Public Health and Human Ecology, 2nd ed. Stamford, CT: Appleton and Lange, 1997)

For WHO health must be complete, it must include physical, mental and social well being, and must involve the satisfaction and realizations of aspirations and needs. That’s a pretty big summary to ask any individual person to define for themselves. However, defining what health and wellness mean to you as a person is a very big step in achieving that selfsame health and wellness.

Does that mean that people who haven’t taken the time to figure out and identify what health and wellness are to themselves can’t achieve health or wellness? Of course not. There are actually people who are completely healthy and well living life quite simply without concerns or worries. Buddhists come to mind, as well as those who follow the Zen or Tao ‘way of life’. In some ways, their belief system can be called religious because it requires or involves worship; however, because Buddhism and Tao have important similarities, they no doubt influenced each other heavily and have cross-over beliefs that have no religious affiliation.

One important aspect of the Zen path is to simplify one’s life to be and maintain a sense of mindfulness. Each moment of the present is valued. Each drop of rain is cherished and appreciated. You might expect that there is a group of new monks somewhere who, having fully adopted the Zen path of living, are now staring at the sky in wonderment while rain drops crash into their open gaze painfully. No, that’s not how a person appreciates the things they cherish. People don’t squeeze their family pets to death for need of showing their adoration and love. Appreciation of the moment is an easy thing to do, so why don’t more people do it? Why don’t more people achieve wellness?

To answer it simply, if a person doesn’t find out what their needs and aspirations are in a general sense, it could be pretty hard for them to attain wellness. Wellness is often divided into dimensions or facets or steps, keys or components or areas of wellness. It’s ideal to see wellness as a whole thing composed of parts, and to see the whole as the wellness model.

The American Senior Fitness Association4 provides the following information in an article written by Jan Montague, Wiley Piazza, Kim Peters, Gary Eippert and Tony Poggiali;

In 370 B.C., Hippocrates alluded to wellness, when he stated the following:

“All parts of the body which have a function, if used in moderation and exercised in labors to which each is accustomed, become healthy and well developed and age slowly. But if unused and left idle, they become liable to disease, defective in growth and age quickly.”

In fact, the term wellness was coined in the 1950s by Dr. Halbert Dunn. But what exactly does this word mean?

In his book High Level Wellness, Dunn calls wellness “an integrated method of functioning which is oriented toward maximizing the potential of which the individual is capable of functioning within the environment.” More recently, Bill Hettler, president of the National Wellness Institute’s board of directors, defined the six dimensional wellness model as “an active process through which people become aware of, and make choices towards, a more successful existence.” The World Health Organization describes health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity”; while the American Journal of Health Promotion says optimal health is “a balance of physical, emotional, social, spiritual and intellectual health.” Finally, in their 1998 book Successful Aging, Drs. John W. Rowe and Robert L. Kahn refer to successful aging as “low risk of disease and disease-related disability; high mental and physical function and an active engagement with life.”

Attention to each facet of one’s personal wellness model can help them attain more wellness than perhaps they were used to previously. For instance, if someone does a listing of their life’s pros and cons, they might see that they enjoy exercising but not reading or learning. They might then turn their focus to how they can develop ongoing learning in a way that suits them as an individual.

Understanding the wellness model doesn’t mean a person has to attend to each and every part of the model. On the contrary, this could actually cause a person more stress than wellness! However, it is incredibly important to be aware of what parts of the wellness model might be missing from someone’s life, or what parts aren’t getting as much attention. For example, many people up-play their social lives, putting a great deal of importance on what others think and how well they fit in with other people. They might be forgetting the importance of time spent alone or in nature, or the necessity of defining your own identity and opinion in contrast to those around you. Human beings in general are varied creatures and thus we require a lot of attention to different parts of our lives. If we focus too heavily on one part because it is the easiest to aspire to or satisfy, we could be neglecting something of greater importance.

Because we as a people are so varied, we come with what could seem like a lot of work. Work is only ‘work’ when it is burdensome and boring, annoying or tedious or very hard to do. But what if achieving wellness was actually fun? Or thrilling? Or satisfying and a source of success? More people would achieve wholeness and wellness if they could be taught to see their healthiness as something that is routine, enjoyable and easy. That’s why it’s so important for people to look to themselves, examine what’s inside of their hearts, minds and souls, to find out what wellness means to them.

Wellness is a part of whole health. This was a matter of fact thousands of years ago, despite what methods were used that seemed ‘hokey’ or strange to modern medicine and people of today. Many of the myths of healers from long ago are actually based in relevant science; now, after the rising cost of health care has demonstrated the medical field’s inability to address society’s growing problems with obesity, heart disease and mental health, the old ways are returning once more. This doesn’t mean that we’re going to go back to boiling lizard tails or drinking strange potions to get rid of demons. In actuality and practice, this return to a whole model of wellness and health means that practitioners are starting to see their inter-related modalities, and use them accordingly. Doctors are recommending Reiki treatments and meditation to compliment medicine for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Psychiatrists offer medicine or prescriptions as a last resort, and are showing a preference for teaching coping skills to people suffering from depression and anxiety. More and more social and community groups are helping marginalized people learn techniques for budgeting so they can acquire food security and healthy food options, save up for school or a home of their own, and stop living lives so full of unnecessary crises. These changes are definitely attributable to a new/old recognition of wellness as multi-disciplinary in practice, varied according to the individual, and an important part of overall health.

So what does this mean when it comes to the practitioner starting out a new healing practice, or to someone looking to begin their climb towards wellness? This change in attitudes and this growing acceptance of wellness overall for each person means individuals can choose how they get healthy, how they heal and get better. There are a wide variety of options for healing that a person can choose from, and now that society is starting to accept and appreciate each method for what it offers to a person’s health, people can streamline and maintain control over their lives when it comes to getting the help they need.

It also means that practitioners can be discerning about the modalities or healing styles they offer. As with Reiki, there is no need for competition, for high prices or for limiting health plans when it comes to choosing options for healing. One person may find great success with hypnosis for example, while someone else might need something hands-on like healing massage. Someone who has fibromyalgia may benefit from the hands-off approach of traditional Usui Reiki. Someone else might prefer to share their personal challenges with a shaman skilled in past life redemption and pattern collapse.

Whatever method a person chooses to their health, now more than ever their lives are in their hands. There is a vast wealth of information, and while that could be overwhelming, it doesn’t need to be deterring. All a person has to do to begin the path to wellness…is to begin!

There are two steps to change, and the first is to begin. The second…? Is to continue. And in that, we all wish each other love and light and hope for the best results while honouring the journey. Namaste!

Resources and References:

1 – https://www.dictionary.com/browse/wellness

2 – https://www.pfizer.com/health-wellness/wellness/what-is-wellness

3 – https://www.who.int/hac/about/definitions/en/

4 –  http://www.seniorfitness.net/Wellness%20Solution.htm