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

Sometimes A Rose Is A Rose And A Cigar Is Just A Cigar, But Wellness Is Always A Many-Splendored Thing

Thursday April 3, 2008


The term wellness has been in the English language now for half a century, and has been utilized to describe a wide range of positive ideas, including a movement that embraces healthy lifestyles, a concept that celebrates personal responsibility and a range of programs, services and products. There is no single wellness supreme court or Wellness Vatican that is universally recognized as the official arbiter for what is proper, sensible, sanctified or otherwise legitimate and appropriate concerning the usage of the term. Not surprisingly, after so many years of laissez faire, no-holds barred usage, wellness means whatever anyone wants it to mean, at least to him or her or, more often than not, to the business or organization that adopts the term.

This is a state up with which some of us do not want to put, at least if we can do anything to clarify what the term wellness represents. Just in the context of worksite wellness, the term has many interpretations. This essay is designed to identify the nature of current wellness at the worksite while calling for another level of wellness, one that would represent a giant step forward in terms of content and outcomes. The next level of wellness outlined in this essay could add an important dimension to the state of worksite wellness that already exists. It could also foster increased personal and organizational effectiveness. That, at least, is the position advanced by yours truly and others throughout the world who want to promote what might be called REAL wellness-- more specifically, REAL wellness for quality of life enhancement.

Bruegel, Hunters in the Snow

REAL wellness, aimed at quality of life enhancement, is quite different from, but not necessarily an alternative to, traditional worksite wellness. It is, instead, the next level: the one after the prerequisites of basic health and lifestyle maintenance have been introduced and maintained. REAL wellness is an important extension of basic, remedial worksite wellness that has, from the beginning, focused on prevention, disease management, risk reduction and medical (health insurance) cost containment.

Nothing wrong with all that. However, REAL wellness promoters believe the prevailing forms of worksite wellness do not go far enough. REAL wellness for quality of life enhancement extends lifestyle education beyond the prevention orientation. It explicitly seeks to boost personal and organizational effectiveness. While there are many skill areas that can be addressed under a REAL wellness banner, five are proposed for inclusion at this time:

  1. A foundational knowledge of the practical applications of critical thinking skills.

  2. An understanding of basic discoveries from positive psychology about human happiness. The focus is to explore promising pathways to experience this elusive emotion in ways that increase both personal satisfaction and organizational effectiveness.

  3. A wide range of explorations intended to promote new discoveries about meaning and purpose at work specifically and in life generally.

  4. A better understanding of science, along with a related appreciation of wonder, gratitude and commitment to reason and free inquiry.

  5. A raised interest in ethics and related explorations concerning the nature, sources and applications of common decencies.

The latter skill areas are key ingredients for quality of life enhancement that can and should be expressed in varied ways, not necessarily in the language I have chosen. The ways in which such topics will be addressed, particularly the emphasis given at varied worksites by professionals trained in these skills, will be quite different, no doubt. It is not possible or desirable to define what should be included in each of these areas, particularly the latter two noted above. Many cultural factors will come into play.

Furthermore, there can be little doubt that other skill area topics can and should be identified as important issue areas deeply relevant to advances in quality of life.

There are at least three major obstacles to a gradual shift of worksite wellness to REAL wellness for quality of life enhancement. I don't doubt that there are others, but these alone might work to delay if not defeat the inclusion of programming that advances the art and science of worksite wellness to the next level.

  1. REAL wellness sounds hierarchical, which will offend some egalitarians who do not want to suggest or imply that some forms of worksite wellness are more consequential than others.

  2. REAL wellness implies that the other kind is not real or, even worse, bogus in some ways. This is not the intention, as noted above, but the antonym of real IS fake, so an unfortunate hint of a slight is present.

  3. An entire industry of certified and otherwise trained, experienced professionals are gainfully employed doing hundreds of activities at worksites that fall readily under the prevention, disease management, risk reduction and medical (health insurance) cost containment banners. Who is qualified to conduct educational trainings at the worksite in the REAL wellness areas outlined above? Who is in any position to authoritatively, convincingly describe what should be included with each of the five vital, but undeveloped REAL wellness topics?

Of course, the fact that incorporating REAL wellness at the worksite is not easy, that objections and barriers must be addressed, that results are not certain or that new skills and programming are required all together do not mean it should not be attempted. Or, that doing so would not lead to success or consequence. We all know what Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe urged ("Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now") or Daniel Burnham's advice to city planners ("Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood").

The whole point of wellness should be to promote/facilitate and otherwise lead the way to self-directed boosts in quality of life. If you need to be constantly tested, monitored, lectured, pressured, coached and/or mentored to reduce or forego entirely a plethora of self-destructive behaviors, REAL wellness might be beyond your reach. In such cases, even a somewhat less destructive path may be the best to hope for. The possibility that this is a more realistic scenario for most than an advance to REAL wellness makes traditional risk reduction endeavors more important than ever.

Or, look on the bright side and have a drink, then see if you can't sort things out a bit and go on for a while.

Domain: purpose
Subdomain: applied wellness

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