What Does Wellness Mean?

The term “wellness” seems to be everywhere these days. It has become an industry in and of itself, full of fads and trends that can be very confusing to navigate. With each passing day, we are met with the jargon of wellness, but what does it really mean? 

According to The World Health Organization, wellness is:

“A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely an absence of disease or infirmity”

In simple terms, it’s feeling healthy and fulfilled in our lives. Some people seem to be in this space naturally, but it actually takes effort for most people. From a mental health perspective, wellness is associated with six factors first identified by Carol Ryff, Ph.D.:

1) Self-acceptance: How do you feel about yourself? Can you identify and accept your strengths and limitations without being harshly critical or disappointed? Sometimes we can be very hard on ourselves. It’s as though we believe that we can motivate ourselves to be better by beating ourselves up with our words and behaviour. It doesn’t work. It rarely ever gets us to a place where we can move forward, and is often the reason that we can’t feel pleasure for long, even after we have achieved something wonderful. What if we could talk to ourselves like we would a friend when they are being hard on themselves?

2) Personal Growth: Are you allowing yourself to shine? Using your talents? Working to your potential? There are many reasons that get in the way of maximizing our potential: self-doubt, lack of opportunity, fear of failure, or fear of what other people might think. We can also hold ourselves back out of a sense of responsibility to other people in our lives, or a fear of overshadowing someone else. It’s easy to talk ourselves out of things, especially if using a talent to its potential might mean big life changes, but what if it doesn’t have to? What if you could enjoy your talents, dust them off, revisit them again just for the fun of it, and see where it goes from there?

3) Purpose in Life: Can you identify the value and meaning in your life? Do you have a direction that is fulfilling in some way? This can be an overwhelming question. It’s not uncommon to think of the people who have invented life changing technologies, won Nobel Peace Prizes, or went into space when we think about purpose. What if what you do actually helps others get through a moment with a little more ease? What if what you do keeps people safe, helps the economy roll along, fosters learning, or provides a helpful service? What would it be like to remind ourselves of that while we are on the path of deciding if where we are is where we want to be?

4) Environmental Mastery: Do you feel as though you are able to cope with life’s challenges? Do you feel physically capable to get through your day? Do you feel as though you are on your last nerve or on an emotional roller coaster when things go sideways? What would it be like to build on the skills that can help us cope with the calamities of life? Eating regular meals, getting to bed on time, hydrating and moving your body can help set the foundation for dealing with the day. There are many strategies that we can use to develop thoughts and behaviours associated with effective coping.

5) Autonomy: Are you living in a way that meets your priorities? Autonomy ties in with our purpose in life and our values. Values are deeply held beliefs about the way to live life. For example, some of us might prioritize living with honesty or with a sense of service to others, while some might value a faith practice, open-mindedness, work-life balance, a sense of care for the environment, still others might focus on family, or a spirit of adventure. The list of values can be long and it’s easy to veer off track from our purpose with the multiple demands in our lives. To get realigned start small, pick one or two values to live to and begin there. 

6) Positive Relationships: Have you found your people? Do they lift you up or hold you down?  We can find people that will support us in just being who we are while at the same time inspiring us to reach our potential. Sometimes it can take a little while and a willingness to experiment. What if seeking our people could be an adventure of trying new things, like a class in something that interests us, a sport that we used to play, a gathering in a house of worship, or a joining a community service group?

I like to think of these six factors as spokes in a bike wheel. When the spokes in a wheel are intact, the bike rolls along smoothly and can handle hills and potholes. When a spoke gets weak – or breaks – we can tell right away; the ride seems wobbly, we don’t trust its ability to handle tough parts of the road, and our focus shifts from enjoyment to just getting to where we have to go without a greater catastrophe. When this happens, we might miss the scenery and the wind on our faces, metaphorically speaking. In the pursuit of wellness, take a look at the spokes on your wheels and see where you can sturdy your bike so that you can begin to enjoy the ride.

Written By- Lori Parker, Registered Psychologist