For as long as I have been in the field, since the late 80’s, there has been debate about what wellness is and how it should be defined and described.
When I first learned about wellness, like health, it was described as a process of making better choices to create a life of optimal health. However, upon reflection, a process was not very exciting, desirable or motivating to most. After all, does it mean if you have wellness you have a process? Most of us are more interested in what that means to us and others. In other words most of us think about what a process produces or provides.
In getting my PhD, my professor challenged my thinking and changed my understanding of wellness from a process to a product. He explained to me that because wellness is a -ness word, it means it is a state of being. With that understanding I went on to categorize illness as a state of negative health and wellness as a state of positive health.
The state of being status however seemed limiting because of the relative dynamic state of life and well-being. Around this time, 2006, Lester Breslow, one of the fathers of public health, published an influential commentary, Health Measurement in the Third Era of Health. In this article he explains that, “…health must be clearly differentiated from health status, because health has a dynamic potential for increasing or at least maintaining whatever health status is in place…” Taking this information I inferred then that wellness must be Positive Health Potential and Illness as Negative Health Potential.”
When I described wellness as a potential, I analogize it by explaining how a wedding provides the potential of having a life partner, a degree creates the potential of having a career, and health creates the potential of having a desired life. Health after all is a resource for life. I then explain to have the life desired, a fulfilling career or a desired life partner, effort is needed to make it happen. This again left me wondering. W hat do we achieve by having wellness or health? Is it just a possibility and would those possibilities be motivating?
Through my history I have moved from seeing positive health or wellness as a process, to being a product or state, to then being a potential. Although I have liked thinking of health and wellness as positive potential, I have had some reservations about its ability to motivate or to feel pride and accomplishment for its achievement. In my recent review of a dissertation, I came to a new realization about wellness and what it is.
The National Wellness Institute defines wellness as:
an active process through which people become aware of, and make choices toward, a more successful existence.
The World Health Organization defines wellness as:
the optimal state of health of individuals and groups. There are two focal concerns: the realization of the fullest potential of an individual physically, psychologically, socially, spiritually and economically, and the fulfillment of one’s role expectations in the family, community, place of worship, workplace and other settings (Smith 2006)
These organizations describe it as all – the process, the product, and potential. To me these definitions make wellness ambiguous and difficult to understand, conceptualize, and or quantify. By reviewing all this, I had come to realize that really when I experience wellness and what it has always been and what motivates people to work to achieve wellness is PROGRESS. It is when we do things that help us move toward where or who we want to be that enables us to experience the positive, relative, dynamic state of wellness.
My recommendation for wellness suggests we should describe, define and view wellness as PROGRESS. If wellness is progress, then all health promotion and wellness efforts would be focused on creating processes, programs and efforts to enable and create PROGRESS.
Please let me know you thoughts about wellness as progress and how we can continue to improve toward creating interactions so everyone and everything benefits.
I look forward to hearing about how you use pervasive, reciprocal, selfish, selfless, synergistic interactions to generate All Good so everything and everything benefits!
15 thoughts on “Experiencing Wellness = Progress Toward Desired”
Pretty disheartening to think the concept of wellness was being debated in the 80’s and is still being debated today. From my perspective, I think most people see wellness as a state of being or a noun.
My current conclusion is that until we can agree on what wellness, health, wellbeing, optimal living, quality of life, and so on actually mean and how we can then operationalize them in ways people can understand, then we and those that follow will be debating what wellness is come 2029 and beyond.
Wellness may not even be needed by then as they will probably have the parts needed to rebuild us when a part of us breaks down or wears out!
Craig – One of the concepts of wellness that makes the most sense to me is the holistic view that includes multiple factors (mental, physical, environment, etc.). In my understanding, wellness is a constantly shifting state (kind of like the weather). Measuring achievement in one moment focuses on the goals or outcomes of some focused effort, but is wellness achieved? It seems that any comprehensive definition should include the shifting factors that influence the experience of wellness.
Ok, help me understand your comment – does wellness as progress makes sense?
PROGRESS!! I love it. I need to ponder this more. I am a former student of yours (MA – ECU) and I now teach Health and Wellness to several sections of undergrad students at 2 universities locally near St Louis. I think they would grasp the idea of progress much easier than the idea of it being a process. I teach off of two different wellness models but utilize the same definitions of wellness that you have provided in your writing here for both universities. When my students and I discuss the “process” of wellness throughout the semester, I often feel like I leave them hanging… like a sentence without a period at the end. They grasp the concept and we have great discussions (I include a section about salutogenesis – thank you, by the way) but it seems so “far away” to them, I don’t have my PhD yet, but am searching for a program here in the St. Louis area… This idea gives me much to ponder on numerous levels. I hope all is well for you!
I think we all might have always seen wellness as progress and never really realized it. When I lost all my weight, I would step on the scale at the end of each week and see that I had indeed lost weight, little by little. I was feeling better, my mood improved, I could actually walk up stairs and not get winded. I was seeing wellness as it is defined, and I was seeing PROGRESS too. They are positively coorelated, at least in my experiences. The more I move towards optimal positive wellness, the more progress I have made from where I was to where I am now.
Great! Do you think progress enabled wellness as a potential and a product? I am not sure wellness enables progress…
I really like the idea of wellness being a positive potential for health, as opposed to illness being a negative potential. It definitely fits my paradigm. None of us are exactly the same physically, mentally, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually… not to mention gender, genetic, and age variances. Therefore, our POTENTIAL for achieving wellness is logically going to vary markedly.
Craig expressed concern whether this definition could be motivating to our clients. Done right, I don’t see that being a problem. Realizing our personal true potential health could be very motivating because it is personalized to us versus some idealized, unattainable vision, and therefore, something we can see as being truly attainable.
What did you think about wellness as progress??