Over the edge with wellness.

The word wellness is a hot topic. Everyone is talking about wellness these days. Hospitals and emergency trauma centers are even changing their names to titles like “Hospital-Wellness center” and “Family Wellness Center and Trauma” (honestly, you can Google “trauma and wellness” and find thousands of these names). Do these places now provide the product of wellness to people?

One hospital has recently put out an advertising campaign that has different patients describing their own unique definition of wellness- i.e. “wellness is being able to play with my granddaughter” or “wellness is a sunny day” or “wellness is not being sick anymore”. I like these definitions because they are personal definitions- unique to each individual. On the up side, the word wellness has catapulted people to become more involved in their health, more aware of their daily life choices and how those choices may impact their lives. Some people may have shifted away from the old paradigm of the disease-care model and into a more health-promoting way of thinking. This is quite a change; people are now participating in their health and looking at preventing problems rather than waiting for a doctor to cure their disease. “Wellness” has inspired some to be more invested in their health, more aware of their environment, and take more responsibility in their pursuit of happiness.  I am in full support of these changes. But to be honest, I don’t really like the word anymore. It doesn’t feel right to me. I feel like it has been used more as a marketing gimmick to promote a product’s image than as a helpful ideal for people to use towards greater well-being.

Wellness is difficult to define because it is difficult to measure.  Unlike disease, whereby we can use a microscope, some blood work, an MRI, and a biopsy to detect and analyze abnormalities of the body, wellness is defined as not just the absence of disease, but the optimal functioning of body, mind and spirit. My question is, how do you measure that? Disease can be measured as some variant from the normal (I can show someone an x-ray of what normal looks like and then another that has multiple levels of degeneration in their spine and say, “this is not how it should be”). It is much more difficult and quite vague to do an exam and declare, “You are less than wellness.” The ambiguity is why marketing people love the word and can use it to sell everything from dog food to underwear  (The Wellness Brief®). Herein lies my concern. Because there is no measure of wellness and it is marketed as something to provide a better and greater life experience, the search for greater health can become obsessive and equally elusive. The value of wellness gets lost in the act of trying to find wellness. It becomes a quest for wellness, a race for wellness, or a goal of wellness that has no end in sight. To me this seems rather strange. It has become a paradox: the obsession for wellness negates the possibility of finding it (my experience is that neurotic behavior is rather unwellness-like).

I used to like the word wellness, but now I’m too jaded in my belief that someone is just trying to sell me a product or services that cannot be measured and quantified in its value.  Simply put, I feel that the word has become overused and under defined.

Just a rant. I hope you are well.

Dr J