The field and practice of worksite wellness today basically revolves around three terms – health, wellness and wellbeing. Other terms also seen used include: thriving, flourishing, health promotion, optimal living and quality of life. But the big three are health, wellness and wellbeing.
Since these terms are used interchangeably or as synonyms, I have wondered just how different or the same these terms are? When I framed out this question in my mind, I thought it would be simple enough to just look-up their definitions and I would have my answer.
But, boy was I wrong. Definitions only got me so far and not very far at that. It appears that a clearer picture requires understanding the term’s concept and context, as well as its definition.
What Is Health?
Probably, the most commonly cited definition of health is the 1948 definition by the World Health Organization (WHO). “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
The 1994 Mosby, 4th Edition, Medical, Nursing and Allied Health Dictionary defines health as: “A condition of physical, mental and social wellbeing and the absence of disease or other abnormal condition. It is not a static condition.”
Rice University defines health as being “a multi-dimensional concept that is usually and measured in terms of: l) absence of physical pain, physical disability, or a condition that is likely to cause death, 2) emotional well-being, and 3) satisfactory social functioning.”
Wikipedia sees health as being “the level of functional or metabolic efficiency of a living organism. In humans it is the ability of individuals or communities to adapt and self-manage when facing physical, mental or social challenges.”
Fritjof Capra and Pier Luisi in their 2014 book, The Systems View of Life, define health as “a state of well-being, resulting from a dynamic balance that involves the physical and psychological aspects of the organism, as well as its interactions with its natural and social environment.”
The 2013 Edition 22 of Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary defines health as “a condition in which all functions of the body and mind are normally active.”
In Merriam – Webster’s 2006 Medical Dictionary, health is “(1) the condition of an organism or one of its parts in which it performs its vital functions normally or properly; the state of being sound in body or mind; freedom from physical disease and pain. (2) the condition of an organism with respect to the performance of its vital functions, especially as evaluated subjectively (How’s your health today?).”
Stedman’s 7th Edition Medical Dictionary for the Health Professions and Nursing, 2012, has defined health as “(1) the state of an organism when it functions optimally without evidence of disease or abnormality; (2) a state characterized by anatomic, physiologic and psychological integrity; ability to perform personally valued family, work and community roles; ability to deal with physical, biologic psychological and social stress; a feeling of wellbeing; freedom from the risk of disease and untimely death.
Unlike health status which is a fixed state at any one specific point in time, health is a much larger concept. “Health is largely a subjective experience whose quality can be known intuitively but can never be exhaustively defined or quantified.” (Capra and Luisi, 2014) Health is therefore relative, subjective and multi-dimensional. How we define life will determine how we define health. Since life depends on the natural and social environments, so does our health.
When examining and considering definitions, it is important from a conceptual perspective to remember that definitions are only part of the perspective. For conceptual clarity, one also needs to consider context and relevancy as being equally important as areas to focus on as well.