What is Wellness?
Wellness is something we hear a lot about these days. We all know the term denotes something very desirable, something we should be seeking or have. But what, actually, is wellness?
Some might say that wellness refers to physical health and leave it at that. But how about people who are mostly physically healthy, but also very stressed out, lonely, fearful, or unhappy? Do these people have wellness? Not totally. They may have a degree of physical well-being, but not complete wellness. That’s because wellness includes much more than physiological health. In fact, wellness has four dimensions, each one essential to your overall well-being and satisfaction with life.
Three Dimensions of Wellness: Body, Mind, and Heart
Three of the four dimensions of wellness are widely accepted today. The first dimension is Body. This includes all aspects of your physical health—your cardiovascular system, immune system, and all the rest. To have Wellness of Body, all of these systems must be working together in an efficient, natural way.
Physical wellness is crucial because your body is one of your two fundamental instruments for living. It is through your body that you are able to see and smell the beauty of a rose and hear the lilting call of a bird. It is by means of your body that you can stroll through a park, refinish a bookcase, and change a diaper to insure the cleanliness of your baby.
The healthier your body, the better you are able to perceive the world around you and perform a thousand important functions each day.
The second dimension of wellness is Mind, your other fundamental instrument for living. Your mind consists of a cognitive (thinking) part and an affective (feeling) part. The cognitive part includes your beliefs, thoughts, and imaginings. Through this aspect of your mind, when it is whole and functioning well, you are able to make sense of your experiences, communicate with others, and plan for your future. The affective part includes your emotions, motivations, and attitudes toward life. This aspect of your mind, when it is healthy, enables you to enjoy a beautiful sunset, feel empathy for a friend, and get excited about a new project. Wellness of Mind encompasses both parts of your mind. It includes thinking clearly, taking a positive approach to the world, and finding interest and joy in the world around you. Wellness of Mind is essential for living a happy life steeped in rich, rewarding experiences.
The third dimension of wellness is Heart. This dimension consists of your capacity to have good relationships with other people and to do so with generosity and understanding. I use the word “Heart” because traditionally, we think of the heart as the source of our caring for others. It is Heart that takes you out to lunch with a friend, cares for a child who is ill, and enjoys a barbecue with your neighbors. Wellness of Heart includes spending quality time with family and friends. It also means showing kindness to others and concern for those less fortunate than you. There is ample reason to believe that happiness and overall well-being depend on living a life with Heart as much as they do on physical and mental health.
These three dimensions of wellness—Body, Mind, and Heart—are three pillars upon which we build our lives. But unlike most pillars, they do not stand totally separate from each other. In fact, they are very much interrelated.
Take the relationship of Body to Mind. We all know that having a bad cold can slow our thinking processes and create emotional boredom. And we know that a good cardiovascular workout can make us mentally sharper and give us an emotional boost. These are just two examples of the countless ways Wellness of Body can affect Wellness of Mind. Similarly, Mind affects Body; Heart affects Mind, and so on through all the combinations. When we create wellness in any of these three dimensions, we promote wellness in the others. The relationship isn’t perfect, of course.
We can be rich in Mind and relatively poor in Body, or rich in Body and poor in the relationships that constitute Heart. But in general, an increase in wellness in any dimension helps increase wellness in the others.
This interrelatedness of Body, Mind, and Heart makes it even clearer that to enjoy a rich and satisfying sojourn on Earth—a life full of meaningful relationships, activities, and pleasures—we need maximum wellness in all three dimensions.
Spirit as the Fourth Dimension of Wellness
Most people today recognize the importance of these first three dimensions of wellness. But there is one more dimension that many people barely recognize. Yet this fourth dimension of wellness is as important as the other three for living a happy and fulfilling life. In fact, it is so fundamental that it forms the core, the essence, the very Soul of Wellness.
The fourth dimension of wellness I am talking about is Spirit.
Spirit is about feeling connected to something much larger than ourselves, for me its my Lord Savior, something precious, enduring, and of infinite value. For some, the spiritual connection consists of a felt relationship to a Creator or a Higher Reality. Others feel a sacred connection to the natural world or to humanity. For still others, dedication to perennial values such as truth and compassion guide their lives. Embracing our spiritual dimension in any of these ways creates meaning and promotes Wellness of Spirit. This spiritual wellness:
- Helps us make sense of our lives
- Opens us to the goodness and beauty surrounding us
- Gives us a deep appreciation for the world, other people, and ourselves
- Releases the Divinity that resides within us.
Despite its importance, many in today’s society have lost sight of this fourth dimension of wellness. Even if they attend religious services or occasionally contemplate the wonder and mystery of existence, these experiences play little part in their daily activities. As a result, they lack the powerful sense of meaning and depth that comes from fully engaging their spiritual dimension. They also miss out on the synergistic power of Spirit to infuse and promote wellness in the other three dimensions of their lives.
Part of the problem may be that people don’t understand how Spirit can help create overall well-being. It is easy to comprehend how wellness in Body promotes wellness in Mind and how good relationships (Heart) make us feel better physically and mentally. But it may not be clear how wellness of Spirit can promote our well-being in the other dimensions. Yet spiritual wellness can profoundly affect Body, Mind, and Heart. One way it does this is by clarifying what is truly important to us.
Sean Gary, MPA, Certified Wellness Practitioner