Defining Wellness

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Many people have tried to pinpoint what exactly wellness consists of, but there is no single definition. Dr. Bill Hettler, co-founder of the National Wellness Institute, developed the Six Dimensions of Wellness model. This is an expansive description and includes six components, copied directly from nationalwellness.org below:

  1. How a person contributes to their environment and community, and how to build better living spaces and social networks
  2. The enrichment of life through work, and it’s interconnectedness to living and playing
  3. The development of belief systems, values, and creating a world-view
  4. The benefits of regular physical activity, healthy eating, strength and vitality as well as personal responsibility, self-care, and when to seek medical attention
  5. Self-esteem, self-control, and determination as a sense of direction
  6. Creative and stimulating mental activities, and sharing your gifts with others

For purposes of this website, the corresponding categories are:

  1. Relating
  2. Working and Playing
  3. Believing
  4. Moving and Eating
  5. Feeling and Planning
  6. Knowing

As the word “wellness” has become part of our everyday language, the number of Americans suffering from a very real case of “unwellness” has continued to climb. Somehow, we have forgotten that wellness is supposed to feel good. Instead we force ourselves to do things that leave us feeling deprived, battered, and stressed in the name of health and then shirk from any mention of wellness, with all of its personalized negative connotations, for the rest of our lives.

Just as the beauty of wellness lies in its inclusivity, this too is the most difficult part of embracing it in our personal lives. It is difficult to think of a thing that does not somehow relate to the broad definition of wellness. The fact that all of it is interconnected makes it only more difficult to clarify the message. If you think of stress as an example, it undoubtedly affects: how you relate to others, how you work and play, how you move and eat, your world-view, and your ability to share your gifts with others.

This is how the whole notion of wellness becomes frustrating and overwhelming, and understandably results in some people choosing to stock up on toaster pastries and take to their beds for long stretches of time.

Wellness is an industry in itself and we are bombarded daily with conflicting advice regarding how best to attain health for ourselves. Unfortunately, I’ve noticed a troubling trend of people making very esoteric changes to their lifestyle without changing the big, ugly elephant in the room. Someone with diabetes deciding to only use coconut oil and avoid any product that contains carrageenan, while not understanding the basics of carbohydrate counting is an example. All of the coconut oil in the world isn’t going to help you if you are either eating too much or too little carbohydrate to keep your blood glucose within range. It is, however, much easier to eat coconut oil than it is to count your carbohydrates at every meal and snack, and to check your blood glucose several times a day. Easier isn’t necessarily better.

People often point out that the advice regarding nutrition, physical activity, stress management, etc. is always changing. They are correct, but the fundamental basics tend to stay fairly stable according to respectable research. It is only when small and biased studies that prove correlation, but not causation, are misinterpreted and broadcast in a misguided way across social media and morning shows that people are led to believe that everything they’ve been told is wrong.

Regardless of what we may be told, wellness is a very individualized thing and is totally dependent on how you feel. What might feel like wellness to me, might feel decidedly unwell to you. Our culture, lifestyle, history, and health status deeply impact what our definition of wellness is, but for all of us it is “the best that I can do today”. For some people that might be running five miles and only eating organic food, while for another it might be setting goals and priorities in the morning and taking 10 minutes to stretch before bed.

When we make it complex and stressful, we defeat the entire purpose of wellness. Instead of trying to change every dimension of wellness at one time – pick one area in need of attention and the others might just fall into place.

One comment

  1. Wonderful article because it addresses the whole confusion with the myriad diets and exercise plans and really we know what we should and shouldn’t do…sometimes it is easier to “ignore the elephant in the room” and worry about details.

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