Wellness – WTF?

I was at a lovely event recently, and somebody stood up to speak on the internationally recognized merits of the concept of ‘wellness’.

I can allegedly live longer, my body biological markers will turn back their internal clocks, I will be happier, sleep better, have more energy, think more clearly, problem solve like a lab rat, and generally be a much better person if I pursue the concept of wellness.


The speaker’s words were kind, and well-meant, but they didn’t define wellness, or specify how and where to access wellness.

I’m sitting there last night and immediately putting up defences. I don’t mean to pooh-pooh wellness. It sounds good on paper, but I need a little more to work with.

I mean to start with, do I need wellness?

I eat pretty well, exercise, I know my job is taking over my life at the moment, and I’ve lost some key things I used to do because I’ve gotten too busy and tunnel-visioned in my career. There are a million more other middle-aged women like me who are all that and more. So my back was up a little when the word wellness was rolled on stage.

I should say I’m not criticizing the speaker for sharing a message about living a more fulfilled, longer, happier, more stress-free life. I mean, who wouldn’t want that? But what the hell is wellness?

If I collared a few people on the street, I imagine the word health, well-being, mental health, physical health- those would all come into it.

I know there are more apps than stars in the sky you can download to achieve wellness, but of course, I jumped on Google and my first few hits pretty much told me all I needed to know.

There is actually a National Wellness Institute or NWI, which, no offence, conjures up thoughts of seersucker suits and remedy powders, a little intense thought about the pressures in your life and there you go.

Or a film with Anthony Hopkins and Matthew Broderick.

Among the health and wellness (no bias there) experts, it was generally agreed by the NWI that wellness was:

  • Wellness is a conscious, self-directed and evolving process of achieving full potential (so is my job, my hobbies, my relationships, my, well about everything else. Life is an evolving process).
  • Wellness is multidimensional and holistic, encompassing lifestyle, mental and spiritual well-being, and the environment (that’s a little heavy).
  • Wellness is positive and affirming (so is my Chihuahua’s cute attention toward me)(in spades).

NWI said there are six dimensions of wellness, and they should know, right? But University of California Davis said there are eight and so does the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the US government, UC Riverside states there are seven, and Ohio State said there are nine. What if you miss one?

What if you waste time on one that is actually irrelevant when you could spend time on another? Who decides which dimension is the most critical?

It was getting too hard.

Just a well-deserved donut break.

One NWI blogger said wellness was a feeling. That didn’t help. I mean, I’ve got feelings.

“Many of those who have embraced this ethos of wellness have become champions for this feeling because they know that Living Well really is the best way to be, and they want everyone else to know it, too.” -NWI blogger

That just makes me cranky, capitalizing Living Well. I mean, WTF?

Another said she wished she could switch the ‘wellness switch’ in everybody, and that freaked me out a little. Got a little frisson of Scientology going on there.

I concluded the consensus made me feel inadequate, that wellness was nigh on impossible to gain, that as a doubter in the language, I have little chance to get to the other side, condemned to well-less, rather than wellness.

It looks too hard. You know what I’m saying. You’re running on fumes half the time, trying to fit in your 10,000,000,000 steps each day, getting enough sleep, eating whatever is ‘right’ this week, taking that ever-elusive ‘me time’ with a heap you’re trying to dish out to give to everybody else.

It’s damn hard, and it pisses me off.

And there in front of me is the glittering twist of possibility of a better, more balanced life, enrobed in wellness. The NWI says for only a minimum of $125 a year, I can become a base-level member, and access all the wellness resources I want to fingertip that lovely stuff, like silk brocade from the far East in 1825 – rare, incomparable, precious.

But for $100 more, I get the plus-membership including six annual issues of the American Journal of Health Promotion.  One got-to kind of read, man.

Or like free, all you can eat lobster and pumpkin pie. Yummy.

But why do they make it so complicated and seemingly inaccessible, especially to many who are just scraping along trying to get their lives on track? I mean, if the World Health Organization just listened to themselves:

“Wellness is the optimal state of health of individuals and groups. There are two focal concerns: the realization of the fullest potential of an individual physically, psychologically, socially, spiritually and economically, and the fulfillment of one’s role expectations in the family, community, place of worship, workplace and other settings.” – The World Health Organization.

Tell that to a single mom trying to raise three kids and no college education, or an addict trying to get clean, or a family living on base-level welfare because they can’t get a job, or a person with a mental illness unable to afford health care, the family in Africa where every kid is malnourished, the peasant-laborers in North Korea, sex-trafficked Eastern Europeans working in London or the Syrian asylum seekers, and on, and on.

Get real WHO, and all the rest of you dimension-deciders, because who defines wellness for them? It’s no inclusionary system if you ask me. A good one if you can say, yes, I can easily put gas in my car every week, no fail, and food on the table, paycheck in the bank and I have the luxury of choice and time, but not for a whole lot of folks.

For some, just being healthy and free is probably wellness.

In my own way I have been trying to simplify my feelings and my life to reduce the stress and distraction in my life. That seems to be working.

There is no defined rhyme or reason, and frankly, if I spoke to a wellness expert about this and they commended me on fashioning my own wellness strategy, I’d get up and leave the room.

Because to put it simply, on my own steam, I’m cleaning out stuff and bits and held-on to things I realize I’ll never get around to dealing with.

I’ve also made a decision to stay tactful, but try not to take any shit anymore, and stand up for myself when I think it’s important. So more or less, housecleaning. Keeping the things I want, and dispensing with the rest.

And it’s going ok so far.


Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

March 20, 2016 at 11:11 pm

I love this. I’m chuckling over it, wryly amused, my cynicism kicking in. It is such a word, the Holy Grail for a lot of spiritual materialists. Wholier than thou. I am sure you could write a best seller if you called it Mega Wellness: My journey from average stressed out human to fully realized spiritual entity or 2,4,6,7,8,10,12 Steps to Spiritual and Financial Omnipotence. You can’t just give this stuff away for free. The Insights!

March 21, 2016 at 8:33 pm
– In reply to: Judy

I’m maybe just a curmudgeon. Regardless, just trying to get through life is hard enough. Soaking in bits about being healthy, inside and out is part of that. Thanks for reading and the comment Judy.

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