Wellbeing: The What, Why, and How of Living Fully

This is the first of three articles that will explore wellbeing through the transitional years.

What exactly is wellbeing, and why do health educators think it’s an important measure of health? How can we improve our own wellbeing at this life stage?

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Long before the definition of health began evolving into singularly focused weight loss fanaticism, a more robust concept of wellbeing was developed. It was more of a philosophical construct for many years, rather than a health metric, but it was, and continues to be, an important aspect of a life well lived. So important, that we have multiple wellbeing models and instruments to measure it. You may hear numerous other terms used to describe the concept, such as wellness, flourishing, life satisfaction, or subjective, psychological, hedonistic, and eudaimonic wellbeing. Each of these can be measured, but they may not include the full scope of health dimensions for specific study purposes.

My research is primarily centered on social engagement, midlife transitions, and psychological wellbeing, so I'm obliged to choose standardized definitions for each variable. I’ve found one particular wellbeing definition to be the most authentic and applicable for developing health promotion programs to improve health and wellbeing. It includes three dimensions of health, and if you’ve seen my five-dimension model, you can see where the other two dimensions fall into these broader factors. 

So I introduce you to wellbeing as the balance point between an individual’s resource pool and the challenges faced (Dodge, Daly, Huyton, & Sanders, 2012).

Wait, you think this sounds more like resiliency? If so, you’re correct. This definition considers wellbeing to be less about avoiding exposure to negative life experiences and more about how individuals respond to them in order to adapt, recover, prevent future occurrences, and make use of available resources that help maintain equilibrium. As studies indicate, you can have physical limitations or environmental challenges, and score higher on wellbeing scales than someone who has only had positive experiences. 

Are you disappointed that six-pack abs aren’t the primary focus? You might even be surprised that happiness isn’t spotlighted. Both of these are fleeting, superficial factors, that disappear with each meal or sad thought. They also set up an imaginary perception of a perfect world, defined by metrics that most populations would find laughable. No, while these attributes may be present in both ill and well people, but they do not embody psychological wellbeing.

Wellbeing is bigger than a singular physical fitness test. It’s wider than our personal feelings. And it’s broader than our social circle. It includes all of these elements and more. Because physical, emotional, and social health aren’t little silos inside our body; They’re interrelated aspects of health, which form the foundation for wellbeing. It’s our ability to balance them and rebalance and balance again that increases our wellbeing as we move through life stages. Imagine telling someone who wasn’t born into the perfect environment that they had one shot at wellbeing or worse, that they could never achieve it. We know that’s simply not true.

This definition opens the gates of wellbeing to all living souls. It considers the biological, environmental, and behavioral factors that influence our lives, and the resources we cultivate to face large and small challenges. I should note that extreme circumstances are often excluded, especially when we look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. We understand that in the absence of baseline food and shelter, it’s highly unlikely that we’d be thinking of improved wellbeing from a philosophical standpoint, so I don’t want to suggest that we’re all equipped with the same supportive set of resources. Likewise, I can’t suggest that because an individual has faced a devastating event, that wellbeing is unattainable. You see, just like every other aspect of health, humans are biologically, environmentally, and behaviorally unique beings.  

True wellbeing requires a synergistic balancing act that’s fueled by patience, practice, and perseverance. And it’s yours for a lifetime.

Part Two will look at the importance of wellbeing, and the character strengths associated with improvement. Part Three will provide an avenue for improving our personal wellbeing as we move through life stages.

Lisa Hautly