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Questions (and Answers) About Wellness

Friday January 30, 2015

Professor Wellness

Over the course of many decades, questions have been put to me about the wellness concept and related matters from AWR readers, website visitors, audience members, heads of state and perfect strangers. OK, maybe not so many heads of state.

Most of the time, I have opinions to offer, based upon experiences, readings and other sources. But, all such preparation only goes so far. Even if I spent years doing randomized, placebo controlled, double blind trials of a longitudinal nature with legions of subjects on the precise issues raised by any given questioner, answers or advice could only go so far. Who am I—the Answer Man?                               

No. I'm just a guy with an interest in having fun, playing games (e.g., competing in triathlons), enjoying music and art, observing the human drama, appreciating nature, learning a bit of science about the cosmos and how the world works, staying healthy as long as possible and loving my wife, children, grandchildren and others who are nice to me. I'm not an authority or expert on anything, but I get questions anyway. So, I try not to disappoint.

When asked about one thing or another, I ponder what I know that seems reliable and supplement this meager foundation—by making stuff up. This enables me to round out a reply. Then I hope for the best. I want the advice to be more or less accurate, as far as it goes, and not hazardous to the recipients health or welfare.

You might say I’m a bit of an ultracrepidarian. That’s a word I learned the other day that seems to fit how I operate when questioned. It means one who gives advice or information that goes beyond the limits of his expertise.

I recently got to use this that word in a response to a question, as you will see below.

A Hit Parade of Questions

Here is a sampling of questions I answered in the last few days. I’d like to think they shed more light than darkness and give more help than hurt. But, it’s still buyer, or questioner, beware. We all have to make our way along, as best we can.

What sparked your initial interest in wellness—what made you get into this fiels?

Exposure to a new world of possibilities, both personally and professionally, beginning around 1972. I was living a calm, orderly, normal life in a mild-mannered mid-western U.S. city when an opportunity came along to lead a health planning agency in San Francisco. This work stimulated both career and lifestyle reassessments - and recharging. The changes proved dramatic-and remarkably fortunate, in retrospect.

A few examples of such exposure may be of interest.

I have in mind exciting, alternative and experimental approaches to relationships, ways to become and remain healthy, to find added meaning and purpose and to have fun in a new environment. The changes came about from my exposure to a wide range of holistic, life-enriching programs in places like Mill Valley, San Francisco and Berkeley. The philosophies and ways of being on display stimulated what I'll call a mid-life awakening. One of my first major wellness insights was that a mid-life awakening is more fun than a mid-life crisis.

How has the wellness industry changed since you started? And how has the general public perception of/interest in wellness changes (if it has)?

The Stanford Research Institute (SRI) and Global Wellness Summit (GWS) assert the existence of a $3.4 trillion global wellness market or industry. I find this figure a bit misleading. Such an industry is, in fact, a goulash of ingredients, few having much resemblance to original meanings of wellness as described by Halbert L. Dunn, the father of wellness, or to descriptions of wellness that expanded upon Dunn's ideas, myself included, in the early years of the movement.

The sectors of such an industry, according to GWS, are vendors and service providers of offerings such as healthy eating/weight loss, fitness and a nebulous mind/body category, beauty and anti-aging, prevention, alternative medicine, workplace wellness and lifestyle real estate. Huh? Not a single one of these categories would pass muster as a wellness element when the term is used as noted above (and below - note how wellness is described in addressing additional questions); jumbled together, this wellness industry is to REAL wellness what a Potemkin Village is to a thriving center city.

What still excites about working in this field? What does wellness mean to you today?

What could be more satisfying than sharing a mindset, philosophy and lifestyle that works well for me and others I know at home and around the world? Robert Green Ingersoll's Creed captures this sentiment:

The time to be happy is now, the place to be happy is here and the way to be happy is to make others so.

This applies to a dynamic state of positive functioning. The time for that is now, the place is where you are and the way? By helping others while doing your best to model such an approach.

As to what wellness means to me today, how about simply thinking and acting in ways consistent with evidence-based principles of effectiveness? This applies to such dimensions of functioning as reason, exuberance, athleticism and liberty, the four broad areas of REAL wellness. Wellness is a lifestyle that does not require any products, treatments, healings, therapies, services or other interventions by outsiders. It is up to each person to shape, sustain and enjoy a wellness way of life.

How would you describe your specific area of expertise?

I have no specific area of expertise. I started my career as an urban planner - people in that profession have to know a bit more than a little about many sectors: urbanism, design, social studies and much more! After a few years of that, I transitioned to health planning, which required a partial knowledge of the health care system - but much less than the specialized experts - the doctors, hospital administrators and other medical disciplines.

And now I'm a wellness promoter. Now I know a few things about reason, exuberance, nutrition and exercise (i.e., athleticism) and the conditions needed for freedom, not to mention happiness, meaning and purpose and that kind of thing, including topics that touch on politics, sex and religion. Again however, not nearly as much as experts in each of these and other lifestyle related areas. The way I'm going, I'll never be an expert in anything!

Wait, that may not be true. I'm a bit of an expert in performing triathlons and, if my newest book is any criterion, a leading authority on Wellness Orgasms.  

There is a great word, actually, that describes my specific area of expertise as an enthusiast for REAL wellness, and that word is ultracrepidarian. Used as an adjective, an ultracrepidarian like me gives opinions beyond his area of expertise. In the broad, all-encompassing domain of wellness, there is no alternative.

Why should wellness be a part of one's life?

Because it is a richer way to live. It should be part of one’s life because it is better to be exceptional than mediocre, happy than sad, fit than fat, serene than stressed and fully alive than half dead.

What are 2 or 3 specific trends or new developments in health/wellness/or spas that you find interesting?

The first is the growing acceptance within the spa industry and beyond that all the doctors, drugs and treatments in the universe cannot make us fit, happy, confident, capable, effective, strong, resilient, free and otherwise successful in meeting the challenges of life, day in and day out, over time. We need to create the high standard quality of life necessary to function at our best, within the environments in which we live and the cultures that affect us, for better or worse.

A second trend is widespread recognition that even good nutrition, exercise, stress management and avoidance of bad habits (e.g., smoking, excessive alcohol consumption) are not enough. All good, of course, but not sufficient to overcome the norms and customs of the larger society that often make sustaining good intentions to live well and prosper too difficult for most people to manage. Unless non-obvious obstacles and barriers are fully understood and managed, most people will not succeed at the art of optimal living over time.

Where is your favorite place to relax or restore, and why? (Doesn't have to be a specific hotel name—coud be a favorite location, part of the world, et.c)

Perth, Australia - or just about any other city Downunder. It takes a long time to get there (from Florida) but it's always worthwhile. I've made 12 trips since 1986 and have another coming up in October.

Of course, my very first favorite place for relaxation, restoration or just being is where I live in Florida which, not surprisingly, is why I live there.

What are your top 3 wellness musts—what are 3 things everyone should do/pay attention to/eat/etc.?

I can't manage with less than 4 wellness musts—4 things everyone should attend if she knows what's well for her:

  1. Develop and practice the art of reason, also known as critical thinking, effective decision-making, respect for evidence and an appreciation of science.
  2. Think in terms of exuberant living, loving life and finding ways large and small to add meaning and purpose, to be happy, to cultivate hope by seeing the calm beyond the storm, the dawn beyond the night. (Ingersoll)
  3. Look after your body by engaging in vigorous daily exercise while favoring a whole foods, plant-based diet, to the extent possible.
  4. Protect and enjoy your freedoms to live life the way you want to live it, free to the extent possible from cultural, institutional, religious and/or other constraints.

Summing Up

I hope one or more of these responses will be of value - that something here might help you sort out and make good choices, given your circumstances, which are of course different from everyone else who ever was, is or ever will be. REAL wellness isn't easy, or else everyone would be living this way.

Look on the bright side.

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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