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Don's report archive

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

Moving Toward Global Wellness: Where We Are Versus Where The Wellness Movement Might Need To Go (Part Two)

Saturday March 1, 2008


In the previous essay, I wrote that wellness is a philosophy founded on personal responsibility and quality of life. It has multiple dimensions and skill areas. It also has many interpretations and definitions. Like our own species, it is evolving. Thank goodness.

My view is that the wellness philosophy is a mindset consciously chosen to provide the best in health, satisfaction, love, meaning and exuberant living - for starters. The wellness movement is evolving, rapidly and we can be glad of it.

Around the world, some wellness promoters are contemplating a shift in the way wellness is explained, advanced and viewed. (I almost sub-titled this essay, "Where We - In The US - Are Versus Where It - International Wellness - Should Go," but didn't). Since the earliest days of the modern wellness era in the late 1970's, wellness has been an ambitious, positive lifestyle idea for a few enthusiasts, but a limited risk-reduction program for institutions. The latter, given their resources and the fact that they provide most of the employment opportunities for wellness promoters, are driven but also limited the movement.

However, now efforts are underway to promote the wellness idea on an international scale, and a different interpretation of the wellness philosophy might be in order. Yes, while the term wellness describes a lifestyle, wellness is also associated with a movement. The movement reflects varied efforts to promote healthier attitudes and behaviors in institutional settings. In the latter instance, wellness is put forward by a wide variety of professionals. The diverse backgrounds of wellness promoters affect the way the concept is explained, managed and implemented. Such programs are seldom focused on positive change for increased life quality as an end in itself. Instead, worksite wellness programs are oriented to risk reduction, disease management and the alleviation of negative choices (smoking, lack of exercise, weight management, stress, for examples). Changes in poor habits can save companies a lot of money by tempering the ever-rising costs associated with employee medical (health insurance) benefits. Thus, corporate leaders are justifiably attracted to support such endeavors. However, while convincing employees to minimize or avoid harmful patterns also boosts quality of life, such an emphasis is fundamentally different from wellness enhancement. The latter entails wellness for life-enriching gains, such as high performance, more happiness, greater personal satisfaction, better relationships, improved decision-making, more meaning in life and so on.

When wellness initiatives originate from individuals, the latter objectives are more common than those objectives pursued in worksite settings.

For these reasons and others, wellness is usually called health promotion or something similar in a corporate setting. More significantly, wellness is not the positive, quality of life-enhancing philosophy perceived as it's own reward that an individual might embrace, apart from institutional cost-containment motives. The National Wellness Institute offers certifications in this latter form of wellness promotion. The trainings teach specialists how to design, develop and implement worksite programs. Topics include gaining top management support, assessing needs, selecting a program model, using biometric screenings and so on. In my view, this is all well and good but not quite the kind of wellness advances that Halbert L. Dunn, John Travis, Bob Allen, Bill Hettler and others identified or what has been recently described under the modifier REAL wellness.

The wellness movement in American institutions, including many fitness clubs that add the phrase Wellness Center to their names, has focused largely on physical health. However, a wellness mindset for high quality of life necessitates more. I believe it's time to expand the wellness movement beyond matters of health, however important the health dimension. An effective wellness philosophy should address global well-being, including the physical concerns of the individual. The scope of wellness thinking should be the well and the unwell, those in developing as well as advanced nations, free and secular societies. Wellness thinking and wellness policies should also be devoted to assisting the oppressed living in authoritarian theocracies and dictatorships. No, we don't know how to do this, but a first step might be to decide that a wellness mindset can apply below the top tiers of Maslow's famous hierarchy of needs. Those at the bottom struggling to deal with safety and security, survival and other basic needs might also enjoy a higher quality of life just like the rest of us. The wellness agenda can address these ideas. More on that next time.

Be well and always look on the bright side of life.

Domain: purpose
Subdomain: applied wellness

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