What is Wellness?

Wellness is generally used to mean a healthy balance of the mind, body and spirit that results in an overall feeling of well-being. It has been used in the context of alternative medicine since Halbert L. Dunn, M.D., began using the phrase high level wellness in the 1950s. The modern concept of wellness did not, however, become popular until the 1970s.[1]

Halbert L. Dunn, M.D., began using the phrase high level wellness in the 1950s, based on a series of lectures at a Unitarian Universalist Church in Arlington, Virginia, in the United States. Dunn (196, p. 4) defined wellness as “an integrated method of functioning which is oriented toward maximizing the potential of which the individual is capable. It requires that the individual maintain a continuum of balance and purposeful direction within the environment where he is functioning.” He also stated that “wellness is a direction in progress toward an ever-higher potential of functioning” (p. 6). Dunn also described wellness as health being, “much more than the absence of disease remains a cornerstone concept of wellness today.” (Dunn, 787, p 7) Dunn saw wellness as hierarchical: there were lower levels of wellness and higher ones, and the aim was to move everyone up from where they started to high-level wellness. (Dunn, 789, p 8)[2]

Alternative approaches to wellness are often denoted by the use of two different phrases: health and wellness, and wellness programs. These kinds of wellness programs offer alternative medicine techniques to improve wellness. Whether these techniques actually improve physical health is controversial and a subject of much debate. James Randi and the James Randi Educational Foundation are outspoken critics of this alternative new age concept of wellness. The behaviors in the pursuit of wellness often include many health related practices, such as making healthy lifestyle changes and utilizing natural therapies.

Wellness, as a luxury pursuit, is found obviously in the more affluent societies because it involves managing the body state after the basic needs of food, shelter and basic medical care have already been met. Many of the practices applied in the pursuit of wellness, in fact, are aimed at controlling the side effects of affluence, such as obesity and inactivity. Wellness grew as a popular concept starting in the 19th century, just as the middle class began emerging in the industrialized world, and a time when a newly prosperous public had the time and the resources to pursue wellness and other forms of self-improvement.

Wellness combines seven dimensions of well-being into a quality way of living. Wellness is the ability to live life to the fullest and to maximize personal potential in a variety of ways. Wellness places responsibility on the individual; it becomes a matter of self-evaluation and self-assessment. Wellness involves continually learning and making changes to enhance your state of wellness. [3]


A healthy body maintained by good nutrition, regular exercise, avoiding harmful habits, making informed and responsible decisions about health, and seeking medical assistance when necessary. To remain well, physical wellness requires that you take steps to protect your physical health by eating a well-balanced diet, getting plenty of physical activity and exercise, maintaining proper weight, getting enough sleep, avoiding risky sexual behavior, trying to limit exposure to environmental contaminants, and restricting intake of harmful substances. [3]

A state in which your mind is engaged in lively interaction with the world around you. Intellectual wellness involves unbridled curiosity and ongoing learning. This dimension of wellness implies that you can apply the things you have learned, that you create opportunities to learn more, and that you engage your mind in lively interaction with the world around you. [3]

The ability to understand your own feelings, accept your limitations, achieve emotional stability, and become comfortable with your emotions. Emotional wellness implies the ability to express emotions appropriately, adjust to change, cope with stress in a healthy way, and enjoy life despite its occasional disappointments and frustrations. [3]

The ability to relate well to others, both within and outside the family unit. Social wellness endows us with the ease and confidence to be outgoing, friendly and affectionate toward others. Social wellness involves not only a concern for the individual, but also an interest in humanity and the environment as a whole. [3]

The sense that life is meaningful and has a purpose; the ethics, values and morals that guide us and give meaning and direction to life. Spiritual wellness implies a search for meaning and purpose in human existence leading one to strive for a state of harmony with oneself and others while working to balance inner needs with the rest of the world. [3]

Preparing and making use of your gifts, skills and talents in order to gain purpose, happiness and enrichment in your life. Occupational wellness means successfully integrating a commitment to your occupation into a total lifestyle that is satisfying and rewarding. The development of occupational satisfaction and wellness is strongly related to your attitude about your work. [3]

The capability to live in a clean and safe environment that is not detrimental to health. The quality of today’s environment has a direct effect on personal wellness. To enjoy environmental wellness we require clean air, pure water, quality food, adequate shelter, satisfactory work conditions, personal safety and healthy relationships. [3]


  1. Zimmer, Ben (2010-04-16). “Wellness”. The New York Times.
  2. Kirkland, Anna. “What Is Wellness Now?”. Journal Of Health Politics & Law.
  3. North Dakota State University, https://www.ndsu.edu/wellness/wellness_education/seven_dimensions_of_wellness/