The true nature of health is somewhere in the clouds. Over thousands of years, we have looked onto this cloud of health and have outlined definitions and dimensions of health that have served our purposes. Our definition of health has changed as our purposes and our measurement tools have evolved and as new information and knowledge are discovered.
The term “well-being” has become part of our recent lexicon to reflect a kind of health described by fixed dimensions. Well-being has been expressed as PERMA (Seligman and his co-workers at the University of Pennsylvania), as the five essential elements proposed by Gallup, and by many others with their overlapping dimensions of health.
Together, wellness and well-being, by whatever definition, form a strong, on-the-ground combination to address the health and performance issues facing organizations and society in general. Between the combination of wellness and well-being and an acknowledgement that “Other People Matter[i]” and “Context Matters,” we create an implementation formula to begin to take our combined solutions to a much higher level within organizations and society. In essence, we have the common threads to contribute to thriving and flourishing individuals and organizations.
Wellness and well-being have been our objective since we realized that simply “…waiting for disease and then treating the disease…” is an incomplete population strategy. Wellness and well-being are two components of an evolving wellness profession and, as in any growth profession, we grow through our own research experiences plus the applications and findings from other disciplines. The names do not have to change to evolve the profession. In fact, changing or micro-defining names could create confusion.
Over the centuries, the roots of wellness have been grounded in noble, humanistic and philosophic approaches to life, living and happiness. We stand on the shoulders of Don Ardell, Ken Pelletier, John Travis, Don Vickery, Lewis Robins, Robert Allen and many others. We are also indebted to the Association of Fitness in Business and Industry and The Society of Prospective Medicine, which were both formed in the early 1970s. Over the course of nearly 30 years, these professional organizations provided the platforms for the initial development of the foundations of wellness and prevention. We are grateful for their commitment to the scientific and applied aspects of our field.
Perhaps we now need similar organizations to provide orientation for new entrants to the field and as a way to convey new knowledge and information and practical experiences. If not, we soon will be left with a lost foundational base and only being fed by provider companies, some with biased motives as evidenced by recent headlines.
Few, including those in this field, would have thought we would come so far so quickly. “Wellness” is now a household, government and organizational term, and “well-being” could be on the way to becoming so. In fact, when you investigate worldwide, well-being is probably more commonly used than wellness, although the definitions of well-being are not consistent.
Wellness (and now well-being) programs got pulled into organizations as a strategy for cost-avoidance from escalating healthcare costs and the costs of time away from work. Many providers of wellness and well-being programs capitalized on this intuitive solution and profited from creating various programs to meet the rising and expanding demand. After a 25-year detour into using wellness programs as a cost avoidance approach, our roots have begun to again come to the surface.
At Edington Associates, our objective is now to take wellness and well-being to a higher level within organizations: to evolve shared values and results as a core organizational strategy. This is the major objective in our upcoming book, Positive Health as an Organizational Strategy: Shared Values-Shared Results™, which is a sequel to what we introduced in Zero Trends: Health as a Serious Economic Strategy.
Over the past decade, it is clear that health, wellness and well-being have begun to achieve recognition in organizational visions and strategic plans. The realization that, “…we can’t expect to return a changed person back into the same environment and expect the change to be sustained.” This is, of course, true for any type of learning — be it leadership development, the creation of strong friendships or lasting behavior change.
Poor health is a wicked problem (multiple precursors, complex societal influences, etc.) in need of creative solutions that acknowledge and address its complexity. We can’t expect any single solution to be effective in creating sustainable change. The most reasonable solution is to respect all solutions because each solution will be the right solution for some single individual, group of people or an organization.
We are amazed by those who hold wellness and well-being responsible for single-handedly reducing healthcare costs. We may as well expect it to bring about world peace or eliminate global hunger. No groups promoting a single solution (medicine, prevention, pharmaceuticals, benefits, policy, “culture” change, etc.) should be so arrogant and no single individuals should be so naïve as to hold any one solution responsible when so many other fields have failed, if that is the term some want to use.
We all need to be on the same general page and all views should be respected as high value in relation to the questions being asked. Before we make statements or draw conclusions, we each need to be sure we clarify the question. Although there are some in our space who believe that one gets ahead by tearing down others and promoting themselves; health, wellness, well-being (by whatever name you prefer) are too important to become distracted by the negative attacks and self-serving, destructive rhetoric of a few individuals and at least one organization.
- We believe we make progress by first embracing our combined strengths.
- We believe collaboration is imperative and will be the new competitive advantage.
- We believe in disruptive innovation, which we have encouraged for the past 10 years.
We should be proud of our legacy, celebrate our national and international successes and build upon our roots.
…to be continued in Part II
No one of us is as smart as all of us, and no one wins without all of us winning.
[i] Christopher Peterson, PhD