Wellness always seems to be working at answering one critical question: Why don’t people do what they know they need to do for themselves? Providing people with good information about physical fitness, stress management, nutrition, etc., is important, but insufficient. It is not a matter of lacking information.
When you look at living a healthier life, there seem to be certain factors that have emerged from the last twenty years or so that the wellness movement field has identified.
1. Wellness is a holistic concept. Anything short of that is incomplete and ultimately ineffective. We need to look at the whole person and plan lifestyle changes for mind, body, spirit and environment. Just working at the dimension of wellness that you already like, such as exercising and minimizing the others, like stress management or nutrition, doesn’t work in the long run.
2. Self esteem is the critical factor in change. Wellness is caring enough about yourself to take stock of your life, make the necessary changes and find the support to maintain your motivation. Heal the wounds. Find what is holding you back from feeling good about yourself and work through the blocks, not around them. Acknowledge your achievements and express the “real you.”
3. Who we surround ourselves with either helps us stretch our wings and soar, or clips them again and again. We tend to follow the lead of our peers and find it hard to “go against the grain.” Positive peer health norms encourage wellness lifestyle changes. Mutually beneficial relationships with friends, lovers, family and colleagues who care about us as people are what we need to seek and create in our lives. Rather than being threatened by our personal growth, they support it. Do your friends (partners, etc.) bring out your OK or NOT OK feelings? Giving and receiving strokes are what it’s all about. Friends keep friends well.
4. Break out of the trance! Conscious living means becoming aware of all the choices we have and acting on them. It involves a realization that we don’t have to run our lives on automatic pilot. We can turn off the television (remember TV stands for “time vacuum”), read labels, turn off the lawn sprinklers when we have enough rain, notice how our food tastes, notice how tense and contracted we are when we drive fifteen mph over the speed limit, etc. It means consciously working on our relationships, life-goals, and maximizing our potential.
5. A sense of connectedness to other people, other species, the earth and “something greater” grounds us in our lives. We are all of one heart. Much of this sense can come out of the land we live on. By identifying with where we live, getting to know the plants, animals, weather patterns, water sources and the landscape itself, we develop not only a love for it, but feel that love returned. Through our commitment to our place on earth we value and protect our environment by the way we live our lives, and by how we speak at the ballot box. Through our contact with the natural world we experience a solid sense of belonging, peace and harmony.
6. We are primarily responsible for our health. There are the risk factors of genetics, toxic environments and the like, but our emotional and lifestyle choices determine our health and well-being more than anything else. As much as we’d like to cling to blame and cop-outs, we must be honest with ourselves. The flip side is the empowerment this realization gives us.
7. From increased self-sufficiency comes the confidence and power that overshadows fear. The Australian Aboriginal people say that when a person cannot walk out onto the land and feed, clothe and shelter themselves adequately a deep, primal fear grips their soul. Recognizing our interconnectedness, we grow tremendously when we can care for ourselves on many different levels. Skills, information and tools that enable us to: choose our food wisely (or even grow it ourselves); become more competent at our career; adjust the shifter on our bicycle; take a hike into a wilderness area; bake bread from scratch; etc., all increase our self-respect and self-confidence. We need to learn these skills and teach them to others, especially our children.
8. As much as we all need time with others, we all need time apart. Solo time, especially in the natural world, helps us relax, de-contract, and get beyond the distractions of modern life that prevent us from really knowing ourselves. There are some powerful reasons that peoples from all around the world have spent time alone (usually in a wilderness setting) in order to gain vision about the direction and meaning in their lives.
9. You don’t have to be perfect to be well. Perfectionism often pushes us to feel ashamed and feeds a negative view of ourselves. Workaholism, anorexia and other addictive behaviors can result. Wellness does not mean swearing off hot-fudge sundaes. It just means not b.s.’ing yourself about when you last had one!
10. Play! We all need to lighten up, not take ourselves (and wellness) so seriously. Remember the lessons of the coyote and be playful, even ornery in a non-malicious way. Let the child within out to play. Give yourself permission.
Even with these tenets there is no concrete wellness formula. You have to discover what works for you and add your own tenets to the list.
Editor’s Note: A version of this article appeared in Wellness Management Vol. 10, No. 3, a publication of The National Wellness Institute, Stevens Point, WI.