What Do You Think of When You Hear the Word ‘Wellness’?
Do you think of clean eating or coconut oil or all-natural products? Or something money can’t buy?
What is wellness? Is it perfect health? Happiness? Can you only find it if you do lots of yoga and drink kombucha smoothies every day? Is it reserved strictly for the young, beautiful, and wealthy?
Or is attaining wellness something more? Something the current wellness industry can’t bottle up and sell to you.
The business of wellness has become a massive industry. You can spend a fortune on Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop products or hundreds on one grocery trip to Whole Foods. The wealthy cheerfully spend thousands in one weekend on health spas and retreats to reach a state of health and well-being.
Does this mean only the wealthy have a chance to attain wellness; or is it reachable for anyone?
The Global Wellness Institute defines wellness as the active pursuit of activities, choices and lifestyles that lead to a state of holistic health.
First, wellness is not a passive or static state but rather an “active pursuit” that is associated with intentions, choices and actions as we work toward an optimal state of health and wellbeing. Second, wellness is linked to holistic health — that is, it extends beyond physical health and incorporates many different dimensions that should work in harmony. — Global Wellness Institute
If we consider that wellness is the pursuit of health, then what is the definition of heath?
Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. — World Health Organization (WHO)
Wellness means actively pursuing complete well-being. Not just physical well-being, but mental as well.
6 Dimensions of Wellness
The National Wellness Institute promotes 6 categories of wellness.
- Emotional — the ability to accept your feelings and express them freely.
- Occupational — personal satisfaction through work that you feel is meaningful and that aligns with your values.
- Physical — eating nutritious foods and getting regular exercise. Feeling good physically can help you to feel good in other dimensions.
- Social — live in harmony with your community. To have social support from family and friends.
- Intellectual — continuous learning about subjects you find interesting. Expanding your mind and always seeking knowledge.
- Spiritual — you don’t have to be religious to be spiritual, but you can be. Spirituality is finding a meaning for your life and living in a way that is consistent with your values. And having tolerance for the beliefs of others.
Can Wellness Be Bought?
You can’t bottle up wellness and sell it. All the coconut water, probiotics, and essential oils in the world won’t solve all of your problems. Yet, you do need resources. You need a level of basic human comfort before you can hope to find well-being.
If you’re an immigrant escaping a war-torn country, if you’re struggling every day to feed your family, if you’re suffering from a severe illness, if you don’t have access to clean water or clean air; you won’t have the energy to devote to becoming “well.” It will take every strength you have just to survive.
When you look at wellness in this light, you may think it’s an unobtainable luxury for the masses. Some decadent thing that most people won’t be able to access.
Yet, don’t we all have the right to the WHO’s definition of wellness? That “state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
We can relate the quest for wellness to a theory from psychology. Psychologist, Abraham Maslow believed humans have a basic set of needs that must be met to achieve our potential, which he called self-actualization.
“Self-actualization can generally be thought of as the full realization of one’s creative, intellectual, and social potential through internal drive (versus for external rewards like money, status, or power).” — Positive Psychology
He called it the hierarchy of needs. It’s been around for 70 years and it is still used in motivational psychology today.
It’s generally represented in pyramid form, like the image above. At the bottom, and most essential for survival are your physiological needs. Things like food, water, sleeping, and breathing. Obviously, if you’re having trouble breathing, that’s going to take up all of your focus. Leaving no time for kombucha smoothies.
At the next level comes safety. This is having a safe place to live and the resources that you need to stay there. Then comes love and belonging. Humans are social and a sense of belonging is a critical need.
Once those three basic needs are met, we get into Maslow’s more “advanced” levels. By esteem, he means confidence, self-esteem, and respect. Respect not just by others, but for others as well. And once you manage that, he believes you can work at self-actualization.
How Does Self-Actualization Relate to Wellness?
Maslow believed that self-actualization meant the fulfillment of one’s greatest potential. If you can reach your full potential, it stands to reason, you will find well-being when you get there.
Reaching self-actualization, or being well isn’t about making the most money or being the most powerful person in the room. You don’t have to run marathons or even belong to a gym. You don’t have to be vegan or only eat organic foods.
You need a healthy body and a healthy mind. And when you’ve got that, you can begin to follow your dreams. You can try to reach your potential. It’s in all of our grasps to do so.
If you have financial resources, but your emotional state is hurting, you’re going to have trouble reaching it. But if it’s more than you can fix on your own, get professional help. Don’t struggle with things like anxiety or depression by yourself.
Don’t we all have the right to the WHO’s definition of wellness? That “state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
Everyone’s Journey to Wellness Will Look Different
Reaching self-actualization or wellness doesn’t mean you won’t continue to have struggles.
“Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.” — Maslow
There is no perfect state of being that we can get to and all of our problems will fade away. If that’s what you’re expecting in your search for well-being, you’ll find disappointment. We have to keep making good choices. Day after day after day.
If a product or an article or a wellness expert is making promises that seem too good to be true, they probably are. A state of well-being is something we all need to find inside of ourselves. And it will be distinct for each of us.
Everyone’s road to self-actualization (or well-being) will be a unique journey. And getting there doesn’t mean the journey’s over. As Maslow said, we’ll have to keep choosing growth over fear over and over again.
Now it’s your turn. What do you think? What does wellness mean to you?