One of my (few) extracurricular activities is participating in a newly-formed group called WinnWell (short for Winneshiek Wellness). As of right now, it’s a group of people who care about wellness in our county who get together once a month to try to figure out what we want to accomplish.
As part of this process, I suggested that we formulate a group definition of wellness. Wellness means a lot of different things to different people, and I was hearing a whole lot of talk about obesity and BMI, so I wanted to make sure that we took a more holistic approach. To kick off this process, we invited all members of this group to provide their own definition of wellness. Here’s mine:
Wellness is having the resources you need to thrive and being content with what you have.
It’s loving yourself and having a few close relationships with people you can count on no matter what.
It’s having the confidence and support to be yourself—not pretending to be someone you’re not.
It’s having the resilience required to weather life’s ups and downs and deal with the stresses of modern-day living.
It’s having a strong, healthy body that is nourished with just enough real food and exercised and stretched throughout the day.
It’s knowing how to be present and not always be dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.
It’s feeling like you are making a difference in the world and that you’re part of something bigger. It’s reaching your full potential as a human being.
I thought I’d elaborate a bit on each of these points below.
Wellness Is Having Enough
We all have basic needs that must be met before we can even begin to think about optimizing wellness. We need food, water, shelter, clothing, and somebody who loves us. Most of us also like to have a little bit more than that. Such as furniture, linens, cookware, tableware, personal hygiene products, cleaning supplies, and a few things that look pretty (oh, and running shoes).
I think a key to wellness is having enough, but also realizing when we have enough. We spend a lot of time thinking about the next thing we want to acquire, making money so we can acquire that thing, shopping for the thing, finding a place for the thing, maintaining the thing, and disposing of the thing (when it breaks or we get tired of it). Imagine if we spent this time walking in the woods, or chatting with friends, or doing something creative.
Wellness Is Loving Yourself
We live in a society that constantly reminds us of how imperfect we are. We see beautiful models in magazines and on billboards. We read about successful people who have accomplished this and that before they even turned 30 (yeah, I’m turning 40 today, so I’m a little sensitive to this). We are bombarded with images of fantastic culinary creations that our Facebook friends have posted (well, I don’t anymore…). Even teachers and bosses and parents sometimes inadvertently (or not so inadvertently) push us down and make us feel like utter failures.
To be well, we must rise above all this and practice loving ourselves. Perhaps looking in the mirror and smiling at what we see. Or changing our inner monologue to be kinder: “you’re an amazing, strong, talented person.” Little by little, we learn to love ourselves and that makes all the difference.
Wellness Is Having a Tribe
In the book Spark, the author, Dr. John Ratey, remarks, “being alone is not good for the brain.” Especially in today’s fragile economy, it is critical to have a network of people (it doesn’t have to be big!) that is committed to supporting each other no matter what.
That way, when you think about the worst-case scenario, it’s not so grim. You’d have somewhere to stay. Someone would feed you. They would take care of your kids. It would be OK.
Wellness Is Being Yourself
I’ve written a lot about authenticity—especially in my weekly Sunday notes. We all have certain values that partially define how we think about ourselves and how we should behave. Problems arise when you aren’t in a position to act according to your nature and your values for whatever reason.
Perhaps you’re an introvert pretending to be an extrovert. Or a lover of nature stuck in a concrete apartment complex. Or a born musician working at an accounting firm (no offense accountants—it just isn’t for everyone).
It’s time for you to claim who you are and start being yourself. Otherwise, you will not reach optimal wellness.
Wellness Is Having Resilience
Resilience is my new favorite word (and concept). It’s what helps us get through the bad times and emerge unscathed on the other side. I wish we would add resilience training to the core curriculum in our schools. People are experimenting with this in countries such as Australia and Sweden (including one of my cousins).
I am convinced that if raise our children to become resilient adults, we will be able to halt the anxiety and depression epidemic that is ravaging our country.
Wellness Is Having a Healthy Body
Everybody is born with a unique set of genes that determine what we will look like. Some of us will have a tendency to put on a little extra weight, while others struggle to add some extra padding. However, we all owe it to ourselves to take care of our body and truly treat it as the temple of our soul.
There are a gazillion books about how to do that (I’m reading one of them right now: Grain Brain), but here’s a good place to start: Walk or bike whenever possible (and ideally get your heart rate up a few times a week). Eat real food. Drink water. Sleep. (And it doesn’t hurt to add some Vitamin D & Omega-3 supplements.)
Wellness Is Being Present
At this point, we’ve all heard about mindfulness. We may not quite get it, but we’ve read about it, heard about it on TV, or perhaps been instructed by a therapist or health coach to practice it.
Mindfulness meditation has a number of beneficial outcomes including less anxiety, less stress, and better focus. Whenever we focus on only one thing, our brain is able to calm down. The goal is to be present as often as possible. (So hard!)
Wellness Is Having a Purpose
As human beings, we have a need to feel that we are part of something bigger. Otherwise, what’s the point, right? In your career and the rest of your life, think about ways that you are contributing to the greater good.
If you can’t think of any (which I doubt!), seek it out. Determine what you’re passionate about (e.g. eliminating poverty, animal rights, social justice, human rights, the environment, etc) and figure out how you can get involved. Or on a more intimate level, practice random acts of kindness and brighten the lives of people around you.
I like to remind myself that we have one life. We can spend it in front of the TV, or we can read, engage, learn, inspire, create, serve, and make the world just a little bit better.
Because wellness is reaching our full potential as human beings.