Well-being cannot exist just in your own head. Well-being is a combination of feeling good as well as actually having meaning, good relationships, and accomplishment.
If we remain struggling to define well-being from an academic standpoint, what can we say about establishing a difference between wellness and well-being? 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 may mean. Some like to state there is a difference between well-being 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, well-being, and wellness, are different from each other, and yet they are 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 the main focus of wellness is physical activity while well-being seems to be more associated with mental activity. This approach is based on the traditional mind-body separation perspective. Are our mind and body separate though? Again the discussion may be endless and I can only offer you my opinion here.
I like to see wellness as opposed to illness. As the word “health” can’t be translated as the absence of disease, so can’t well-being be summed up as a state of mind. I’d say well-being comprises wellness. Why? You may have been eating your veggies and doing your squats and yet feel something is not quite right. You can find yourself physically satisfied but you can’t say you’re experiencing well-being in its deepest sense. You may be experiencing part of it, but your mind and spirit may have been neglected, leading you to a place of existence that may feel shallow and meaningless.
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, while well-being offers a broader holistic dimension of a well-lived life such as social and financial well-being. 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 there’s more to the well-being equation. Having friends, benefiting from a sense of community, and being financially independent are also important factors of well-being.
I also like the approach that students from the University of Maryland have taken to well-being. In “Your Guide to Living Well”, they propose eight areas of wellness. These include physical, social, emotional, intellectual, vocational, environmental, spiritual, and financial wellness. This framework gives us a broad perspective of the different factors that contribute to a person’s well-being. Adopting such a framework can help us take action and enhance our awareness, acceptance, and commitment through the decisions we make on a daily basis toward personal and collective well-being.
So, where do I stand after all? I personally 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 given area. The map is not the territory, but it can be handy to have one! If you manage to take care of yourself across multiple aspects, you will experience greater well-being. The key here is to be proactive and do the necessary work and investment.
As you can see, it is not easy to differentiate between well-being and wellness. The debate remains open and perhaps that’s a stance we can benefit from. By staying open to different ideas and perspectives, we can engage with different ways of thinking and designing well-being strategies that in the future will allow us to experience greater levels of wellness and happiness. What is your take on this subject? I’d love to read your thoughts on the definitions I described here and expand them with your feedback.
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