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.
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!