What Is Wellness?

What do you think of when you think of wellness? Do you think of a healthy body? Good mental health? Maybe you think of it as not having any illnesses or pain. You may have even given up on wellness. Whatever the state of your health right now, there are small things you can do to improve your wellness.

The terms wellness and health are often used interchangeably, but there are some subtle differences. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as, “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

Not many of us can even hope to attain complete physical, mental or social well-being, can we?

That’s where wellness comes in.

Wellness is more inclusive and active. Where our health, at times, just “is what it is” due to illness or injury, our wellness is something that’s more dynamic. Wellness is active; it’s actually the efforts and choices we make toward improving our health. Let’s take a look at what wellness actually encompasses.

What is Wellness?

According to UC Davis, “wellness is the process of becoming aware of and making choices toward a healthy and fulfilling life. Wellness is more than being free from illness, it is a dynamic process of change and growth. The National Wellness Institute adds that “wellness is multidimensional and holistic, encompassing lifestyle, mental and spiritual well-being, and the environment.”

An easy way to visualize all that wellness encompasses is to use one of the many wellness wheels that include all the dimensions of wellness.

Let’s take a look at one of them:

Wellness Wheel from SAMHSA
SAMHSA Wellness Wheel

There are a lot of different ‘wellness wheels’ with varying numbers of dimensions of wellness included. I chose this one from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration because of its overlapping of the dimensions. The dimensions of wellness don’t exist in a vacuum; when one area is off-balance, it affects other areas as well. This is how the SAMHSA defines each of the dimensions:

Emotional: Coping effectively with life and creating satisfying relationships

Spiritual: Expanding a sense of purpose and meaning in life

Intellectual: Recognizing creative abilities and finding ways to expand knowledge and skills

Physical: Recognizing the need for physical activity, healthy foods and sleep

Environmental: Good health by occupying pleasant, stimulating environments that support well-being

Financial: Satisfaction with current and future financial situations

Occupational: Personal satisfaction and enrichment from one’s work

Social: Developing a sense of connection, belonging, and a well-developed support system

This is only one model. As I mentioned, there are many out there, with varying numbers of dimensions included. The beauty of it is that we get to decide what a “fulfilling life” and what dimensions need to be included for us to have that.

Wellness is for every body.

Even if one dimension of our wellness ‘wheel’ is a little flat, that doesn’t mean the whole thing is useless.

In fact, even if the whole thing is a little flat right now, we can start with one small action to get that wheel rolling again.

No matter where we are right now, we can start taking small steps to improve our overall wellness. Whether we’re already healthy or we’re at the point where we’re just trying to get through the day without collapsing, we can start the “process of becoming aware of and making choices toward a healthy and fulfilling life.”

Wellness really is for every body, whatever shape you feel you’re in right now.

How does the concept of wellness being a process impact your thoughts about your own wellness? Please share!



Smiling woman standing in field of yellow flowers with text overlay: What Is Wellness?





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