If we remain struggling to define wellbeing from an academic standpoint, what can we say about establishing a difference between wellness and wellbeing? Is it possible? Is it functional? Hard it’s for sure. Pick any two authors or scholars, and you will have a different notion of what these two concepts mean. Some like to state there is a difference between wellbeing and wellness. Others assume there is no difference at all. Who’s right then? I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum. Today I have more of a 50/50 perception on this matter.
I believe the two concepts, wellbeing and wellness, are different from each other, and yet intimately related. If you want to see them as the same, you can. If you want to see them as separate from each other, you also can. You can say wellness’ focus is physical activity and well-being’s mental activity. This creates difference by invoking a mind-body separation perspective. Are our mind and body separate though? Again the discussion may be endless and I can only offer you here my own perception of it.
I like to see wellness as opposed to illness. As the word “health” can’t be translated as the absence of disease only, so can’t wellbeing only be a state of mind. I’d say wellbeing comprises wellness. You may have been eating your veggies and doing your squats and yet feel something is missing. Would this mean you can experience wellbeing and yet be a couch potato? Sorry, but no. You may be satisfied from a hedonistic point of view but if both your mind and body are suffering from the lack of proper food and exercise, you can’t say you’re experiencing wellbeing in its deepest sense.
According to Gallup, wellness refers to a state of physical health in which people have the ability and energy to do what they want to do in life, and wellbeing offers a broader holistic dimension of a well-lived life such as social and financial wellbeing. This approach suggests wellness is an important factor of well-being but not the only one. Eating well, doing exercise, and having good sleep hygiene are important to keep someone’s well-being high but they are not the only part of the equation. Having friends, benefiting from a sense of community, and being financially independent are also important factors of wellbeing.
Although I subscribe to Gallup’s perspective on both wellness and wellbeing, I also like the approach students from the University of Maryland have taken. In “Your Guide to Living Well”, they propose eight areas of wellness. These include physical wellness, social wellness, emotional wellness, intellectual wellness, vocational wellness, environmental wellness, spiritual wellness, and financial wellness. By adopting this framework, we can take action and enhance our awareness, acceptance, and commitment through the decisions we make on a daily basis.
So, where do I stand after all? I go with the following idea: if you approach each area of your life with a high level of awareness, you can identify and transform your reality for the better. How do you do this? You focus on creating and adopting healthy habits in each area of wellness. If you manage to take care of yourself across such aspects, then you can only experience a much greater level of wellbeing. The trick is to be proactive and do the work. Whether you make a clear distinction or not between wellness and wellbeing, at the end of the day what you must realize is that words with no action bring no positive results. Start today.
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