Why Wellbeing Should Top Your Health Goals

If you think your pant size determines your level of wellbeing, think again. While obesity is a key factor in physical health, it shouldn’t be confused with overall wellbeing. After all, how important is that garment tag if you’re anxious, lonely, and drifting in purposelessness? Perhaps it’s time we stop glamorizing the privileged, crafted version of health and find an equitable way to examine our true state of being. This is the springboard to health promotion programs that foster emotional, social, intellectual, and spiritual wellbeing education along with physical health. This is healthy aging.

What exactly is wellbeing? 

Wellbeing may be a familiar term these days, but it’s widely misunderstood. More than a hedonistic measure, where happiness is the primary metric, wellbeing is viewed through a comprehensive lens. It includes important Quality of Life factors, such as depth of social circles, emotional agility, hopefulness, and life satisfaction. In other words, we can be living with a chronic health condition and have a greater sense of wellbeing than an ill-tempered fitness guru. 

In my work, the most useful definition represents wellbeing as a state of equilibrium, with a balanced set point. Simply stated, wellbeing is “the balance point between an individual’s resource pool and the challenges faced” (Dodge, Daly, Huyton, & Sanders, 2012, p. 230). For example, when you’re reorganized out of a job (high challenge), you either have a tribe to share your grief (high resource) or you sit alone in sorrow (low resource). If life is rolling along fine (low challenge), you likely won’t need to call for a life line (low resource). The goal is to build a resource reservoir as we age. Think resiliency, deep friendships, critical thinking skills, and gratitude over Facebook likes and skinny jeans. It'll serve you well as you prep for the next stage of life.

Why is wellbeing important?

1. It’s inclusive. Imagine thinking that only those with good genes and access to a gym are entitled to a sense of wellbeing. Rather than a singular physical health metric, wellbeing includes a richer, broader range of factors. In fact, social engagement, vitality, and faith are as important for higher wellbeing as what you ate for dinner. 

2. It’s measurable. There are over 300 instruments to measure wellbeing. Most are self-reporting surveys with a series of questions on personal growth, depth of relationships, and hopefulness. If you perceive yourself to have a rich, satisfying life, who are we to tell you otherwise?

3. It’s critical. Wellbeing belongs to every human, not just the privileged. When our $70 billion “health” budget is spent on weight loss, we miss opportunities to provide social, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual wellbeing education to a broader, more diverse group.

Wellbeing is about far more than an anti-aging, mass marketed body image. There’s not a valid wellbeing survey that will ask for your weight. So consider skipping the singular focus on an obsolete, out-of-touch image and reframe wellbeing with meaningful practices like relationship building, creative living, and volunteerism. These are the critical resource building blocks necessary to transition through high and low challenges, no matter your pant size.

Reference (definition and figure): Dodge, R., Daly, A. P., Huyton, J., & Sanders, L. D. (2012). The challenge of defining wellbeing. International Journal of Wellbeing, 2(3).https://doi.org/10.5502/ijw.v2i3.4