Wellbeing, Wellness, & Health: What’s the Difference? 

Wellbeing, Wellness, & Health What’s the Difference

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Wellness can help frame and organize a more holistic approach to overall health and wellbeing. If we think about a broader sense of health beyond the absence of disease, focusing on wellness gives us tools for more self-awareness and insight, as well as clues to how to make changes that lead to increased happiness, satisfaction, and feeling balanced in our lives.

What is Wellbeing? 

Wellbeing is a multi-faceted concept without a universally agreed upon definition. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as a state of well-being, in which every individual realizes their own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to contribute to their community (WHO). 

Generally, wellbeing could be described as having: 

  • a generally positive and happy outlook on one’s own life 
  • feeling satisfied with one’s life 
  • feeling healthy and balanced physically, emotionally, socially, economically, and psychologically 

The concept of wellness gives us tools and practices to increase wellbeing and overall health. The Global Wellness Institute, a non-profit organization with a focus on preventative health and wellness, defines wellness as “the active pursuit of activities, choices, and lifestyles that lead to a state of holistic health” (“Defining wellness,” para. 1).  

What is Wellness? 

The National Wellness Institute model of wellness includes six dimensions of wellness: 

  • Emotional wellness 
  • Occupational wellness 
  • Spiritual wellness 
  • Social wellness 
  • Intellectual wellness 
  • Physical wellness 

Other wellness models include environmental wellness (connection to and healthy relationship with the natural environment). Each of these areas can be evaluated or measured by self-report. Many associated techniques and tools exist to help you think about how to support positive change and increase overall wellness and health in your life.

What is Health?  

Health is defined by The World Health Organization as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (WHO, n.d., “Constitution,” para. 1).    

While health in the US sometimes is interpreted more narrowly, focusing almost exclusively on physical health or functioning, research and experience show us that emotional health can have a direct impact on physical health, and vice versa. Wellness dimensions like spirituality, social relationships, and connections with others are protective factors for physical, emotional, and psychological health. Environmental health also can have an impact on physical and emotional health, as well as on social wellness.   

 The UK Department of Health has proposed that one way to define health is in terms of resilience and adaptability, that is, “being confident and positive and able to cope with the ups and downs of life” (Stewart-Brown, 1998, p. 1608). Public health programs and many health care providers across disciplines recognize the many factors that influence and support more holistic definitions of health, wellness, and overall well-being. 

Why Do Wellness and Wellbeing Matter?  

Focusing on wellness and wellbeing can provide tools and ways of thinking to help support your overall health and satisfaction with your life. Using wellness models of health can help assess imbalances in life that may be contributing to suffering, stress, or disease, and can help support positive changes that can improve your health.  

Wellness can help frame and organize a more holistic approach to overall health and wellbeing. The Center for Healthy Minds suggests that there are four key components that affect wellbeing: awareness, connection, insight (into how the self works), and purpose (which involves identifying one’s own values and aligning behavior with these values). 

If we think about a broader sense of health beyond the absence of disease, focusing on wellness gives us tools for more self-awareness and insight, as well as clues to how to make changes that lead to increased happiness, satisfaction, and feeling balanced in our lives. 

Wellbeing Strategies 

Find Your Starting Place

Assess your overall health and life satisfaction from various perspectives including all six dimensions of wellness: occupational, emotional, spiritual, social, intellectual, and physical. How fulfilled do you feel in each area? What’s working well? Where do you want to dedicate more time and energy to improve your health and wellbeing? What help, information, or support do you need to do so? 

Find Resources

Seek out support to improve or deepen wellness in areas that are in need of more attention. Working with a therapist, wellness coach, or respected mentor may help. If you find yourself seeking support with physical wellness, perhaps you want to reach out to a physical trainer, nutritionist, or join a fitness group or program. If you are seeking support with your emotions, a mental health professional may be the best resource. If you are seeking support with your occupational or educational goals, reaching out to an academic advisor, mentor in the field, or career counselor may be a better fit. 

Make it a Priority

Schedule your time to prioritize all the dimensions of wellness if things feel out of balance. This may mean blocking time in your calendar for each dimension of wellness. Incorporating your most important and impactful practices for your wellness into a morning routine or evening routine is a good place to start. If you need help with building time management skills to make this happen, seek out a class or book to help you learn those skills!  

Don’t do it Alone

Find a friend, coach, or mental health professional to help keep you accountable and on track. This also works to increase your social connections and support at the same time! 

Focus on Progress Not Perfection

Practice self-compassion and patience with yourself as you work to make changes. Small changes and little adjustments lead to changing habits and to big changes over time.  

Scholarly Sources 

Center for Healthy Minds. (n.d.). Why well being? University of Wisconsin-Madison. https://centerhealthyminds.org/about/why-well-being 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018, October 31). Well-being conceptshttps://archive.cdc.gov/#/details?url=https://www.cdc.gov/hrqol/wellbeing.htm

Dodge, R., Daly, A., Huyton, J., & Sanders, L. (2012). The challenge of defining wellbeing. International Journal of Wellbeing, 2(3), 222-235. https://www.internationaljournalofwellbeing.org/index.php/ijow/article/view/89/238 

Global Wellness Institute. (n.d.). What is wellness? https://globalwellnessinstitute.org/what-is-wellness 

Manderscheid, R. W., Ryff, C. D., Freeman, E. J., McKnight-Eily, L. R., Dhingra, S., & Strine, T. W. (2010). Evolving definitions of mental illness and wellness. Preventing Chronic Disease, 7(1), A19. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20040234/  

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. (2018, April 3-4). Emotional well-being: Emerging insights and questions for future research [Report of a Roundtable Meeting]. Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research, Bethesda, MD. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/research/emotional-well-being-emerging-insights-and-questions-for-future-research 

National Wellness Institute. (n.d). Six dimensions of wellnesshttps://nationalwellness.org/resources/six-dimensions-of-wellness/ 

Ryff, C. D., Dienberg Love, G., Urry, H. L., Muller, D., Rosenkranz, M. A., Friedman, E. M., Davidson, R. J., & Singer, B. (2006). Psychological well-being and ill-being: Do they have distinct or mirrored biological correlates? Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 75(2), 85–95. https://doi.org/10.1159/000090892  

Stewart-Brown S. (1998). Physical disease may well result from emotional distress. British Medical Journal (Clinical research ed.), 317(7173), 1608–1609. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.317.7173.1608 

World Health Organization. (n.d.). Constitution of the World Health Organizationhttps://www.who.int/about/governance/constitution  

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