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by Donald B. Ardell, Ph. D.
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Wellness in the Headlines
(Don's Report to the World)

My Role in the Early Days of the Wellness Movement Downunder and Around the World

Wednesday July 30, 2014


The president of the National Wellness Institute of Australia (NWIA), Bob Boyd, recently requested an account of what he described as my “wellness missionary role in Australia and beyond.”

SyndneyAs an ardent freethinker, I found “missionary role” a bit  unsettling. But, come to think of it, I suppose I might have been somewhat zealous at times way back then (i.e., 70’s and 80’s). I mentioned this to Bob, noting for the record that my message was and remains founded on reason, not faith-based. In addition, the payoffs I promoted then and advance today are exceptional well being and happiness in this world, not avoidance of hell-fires in the next. I think he was suitably amused.

Where to begin? Well, in 1984 I met Aussie polymath Grant Donovan oDon and Grant in Australiaf Perth, Australia at the National Wellness Conference in Stevens Point, WI. He was in America on a scouting mission seeking a wellness promoter to bring to Australia to quick-start a wellness movement Downunder. Dr. Donovan and I enjoyed good chats and, before long, arrangements were made for a grand tour of five Aussie cities. I was joined on that tour by fellow American Robert Fellows, a wellness promoter who combined magic tricks with lectures on critical thinking. During  each of the five tour cities, we conducted seminars and participated in media appearances. The seminars were billed as “The Art and Magic of Wellness.” That was in 1986, my first visit to Australia; eleven more have followed. I always look forward to the next visit—Australia is one of my favorite places.

I believe the 1986 tour and the work of others that followed were instrumental in bringing about the level and quality of interest that Dr. Donovan had hoped for. Additional conferences followed in the late 80’s and 90’s and a significant number of worksite wellness programs were established. Donovan and I later collaborated on two books: Die Healthy and Live More of your Life the Wellness Way. Our latest work introduces a philosophy of wellness that describes why we’re here, what it’s all about and how to make the most of the brief time available. The book title is, Wellness Orgasms: The Fun Way to Live Well and Die Healthy by Exploring the Secrets of REAL Wellness.

Australia is not the only country to have endured my presence as a missionary/zealot urging a shift to a positive focus on well being. I’ve  had the good fortune to carry on about the nature of health, personal responsibility, exceptional fitness, sound nutrition, environmental sensitivity and supportive cultures in many splendid places, including Japan, Malaysia, Austria, Norway, Germany and every Canadian province save two over the course of four plus decades.

However, there is a difference in the wellness concept I expressed during most of these years and the way I perceive and promote REAL wellness today.

The Evolution of the Concept

I never claimed that a sensible, healthful lifestyle makes one more virtuous, wiser and basically better than those not so engaged. I changed my mind recently. Now I think it does.

When and why did I switch tunes?

It happened little by little and bit by bit. It occurred as my thinking about wellness evolved in response to the implementation of wellness. I was and remained dismayed at the nature of worksite wellness and in particular at the general meanings associated with the term by all manner of vendors and program leaders. I gradually came to realize that there would have to be more to the concept than what was contained in my early writings, including the five dimensions presented in High Level Wellness: An Alternative to Doctors, Drugs and Disease (Rodale Press, 1977) and subsequent books, speeches, newsletters and blogs.

The original dimensions are still important; all must be part of an expanded philosophical mindset if we are to effectively adapt and sustain lifestyles of high life quality.

But, in recent years, I’ve moved on, beyond old fashioned wellness!

Please don't misunderstand—I have not adopted a junk food diet, lost interest in exercise, started smoking cigarettes, using recreational drugs, over-medicating and blaming others. That's not what I mean when I say, “I gave up on wellness.” Just to be clear—I don't want you to think I embraced insanity.

What happened is that my thinking shifted from plain vanilla wellness to what I now term REAL wellness—and that has made all the difference. Let me tell you about REAL wellness.

REAL Wellness

REAL wellness represents a separation and expansion and of the concept from the medical system. It offers a great deal more than physical health-focused assessments, tests and programming of a prevention-based nature. It is centered upon enriching existence. It in no way substitutes for modalities dedicated to medical treatments and the like. However, the key point in understanding the nature of REAL wellness is that it is entirely about life enhancement, well being and enriching existence.

The four dimensions of R-E-A-L wellness are reason, exuberance, athleticism and liberty. REAL wellness is about positive approaches, perspectives and possibilities for boosting quality of life.

As emphasized, it is not risk reduction, medical management or prevention. These objectives, all good, deal with states of alarm to the left of the tipping point or middle range along a continuum from dreadful to fantastic well-being. 

While enriching health, fitness and well-being are elements of REAL wellness, more important are non-physical life quality matters, particularly meaning and purpose, joy and affection, reason or evidence-based decision-making and all else that adds to human happiness. These areas are not addressed in most or, so far as I can tell, any worksite programs.

Not surprisingly, there are serious obstacles that prevent most people from enjoying well-being. These are difficult to overcome. On another occasion, I’ll describe what they entail—this introduction is long enough already.

If REAL wellness comes to pass, it probably won’t be in my lifetime. Perhaps it will in yours—I hope so.

Signed Don Ardell

(Ed. Note: Views expressed in this and other columns are those of the author and not necessarily those of the SeekWellness Editorial Board.)

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