What is Wellness?

by | Aug 11, 2014 | General Health


It’s a word that entered into the public medical vocabulary some twenty-five or thirty years ago. It’s one of a million other trendy words and phrases in our culture, like:  “hippies”, who decades ago got graduate degrees, became part of “the establishment”,  and climbed the socio-economic ladder, becoming “yuppies” in the process. And, more recently, young folks eschewed the “goth” or “grunge” look for “emo”, or a more urban and respectable “metro” fashion. Or, rebelling from the cosmopolitan banality of that, they have become free-spirited “hipsters”. We no longer call a prospective client or customer anymore… we “reach out”. We don’t have a meeting, we “interface” (well, that one has been gone awhile, thankfully). Such a meeting might be productive as long as we’re not “networking” with a “spin doctor”, who fills the air with catchy “sound-bites”.

The language of medicine has evolved along with its core purpose over the last century. As the profession as a whole has moved from the discovery of causes and cures of acute illness and the repair of physical injuries and ailments into the prospective management of chronic disease states and prevention of future problems so the public language of healthcare has changed.

Now we might say that an ounce of “Prevention” has been replaced by a ton of “Wellness.” On a daily or even hourly basis we are subjected to shovel loads of information, a veritable avalanche of TV talking heads, evangelistic vegans, smoothie makers, spandex-clad (or unclad?) health club spokespersons, ex-hippies-turned-run-a-marathon-at-90 fitness experts, formerly-fat-drug-addicted-celebrities, and pseudo-scientific-look-what-cat-dragged-in-that’s-now-actually-good-for-you “researchers” disguised in lab coats and surrounded by test tubes for effect. Our mailboxes (virtual and curbside) are stuffed (and spammed – I’ve given up counting the number of trendy words I’ve used in this blog) with glossy magazines published by fitness centers, hospitals, nutrition product manufacturers, multi-level-marketed super-power vitamin companies, and corporate health promotion programs. Not to mention the throbbing, thrusting, pheromone-dripping infomercials for the latest fanny-slimming, waist-scrunching, muscle-for-fat-swapping herb-du-jour.

But wait. Doesn’t yours truly have a weight loss program? Don’t I go to a health club (even have an ad on the video screen there)? Don’t I  promote vitamins and herbs? Heck, I even wear spandex when I ride a gazillion miles on my road bike. I encourage others to do the same… well, maybe not the spandex, just the exercise. (My apologies to those with more modest sensibilities.  In my defense I have to say that half of my first twenty-two years of life were spent half-naked in public as a competitive swimmer in a Speedo so please forgive me if I’m a bit oblivious.)

My point is this: purely physical fitness is not Wellness. Being well does not consist solely (or even primarily) of having a strong, healthy, or good-looking body. There’s a word for an unhealthy focus on merely physical health. It’s an old-fashioned Biblical word: Idolatry.

Wellness is about balance. It’s about optimal physical health, to be sure. But it’s also about maximizing the health of the whole person. That’s Body, Soul, and Spirit.

Some might rephrase this: healthy physical life, healthy thought life, healthy emotional life, and healthy faith life. But however you say it, true health is keeping these things in their proper perspective, endeavoring to improve each of them to the highest level possible… Getting to this optimal level does not depend upon one’s starting point. It only depends upon the will and willingness to establish the proper priorities.

This puts an entirely different spin on what the state of optimal health looks like and gives one an entirely different perspective on Wellness. It also changes our expectations of what a truly healthy person may or may not look like.

(with this in mind, next blog I’m going to tell you about the “Well-est” person I know.)