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The changing definition of well-being

Did you know that well-being today does not mean the same as it did 20 to 30 years ago? Back then, well-being meant you were free of illnesses, not on medications and had plenty of energy.

Whereas today we say we are ‘well’, even if we have a chronic health condition – which doesn’t make sense when you actually think about it, as how can we say we are well when we are not?

As the rates of illness and disease, exhaustion and chronic ill-health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, etc increase, it appears that we have shifted the goalposts to make well-being mean something different. Now we think that compared to someone who has a terminal illness, for example cancer, we are doing well.

The statistics show that as a population, humanity is not doing so great when it comes to well-being, as up to 80% of the top five causes of death can be related to our lifestyle – that means they happen because of how we live. Or to put it another way: how we live and the choices we make every day affect our health and well-being.

And thus we are in part responsible for the quality of our health and our own level of well-being as we are the ones who are in charge of what we eat, how we exercise, the quality of our relationships, how we deal with stress and our emotions and how we take care of ourselves in general.

This means that through our lifestyle choices we are capable of influencing whether we live well or develop illness and disease, which begs the question: have we conveniently altered our definition of well-being so that we don’t have to acknowledge the part we play in our own health?

By shifting the definition of well-being and making it less, we make our ‘minor’ health concerns seem trivial in comparison to something more life threatening and hence we tend to brush them off or even ignore them. Doing this stops us from acknowledging that something is wrong with us, preventing us seeking the help and care that we need and then we begin to accept these conditions as ‘normal’.

This leads us to a situation where:

a) we think that we can be well – when we have symptoms or health conditions that are showing us we are far from it
b) we can choose to ignore the lifestyle we are leading that has impacted on our health

Many of us have a knowing of what ‘well’ feels like, as when we were children we lived with a level of health and vitality that was natural for us, so we still automatically know when we don’t feel right. By being prepared to admit that something is wrong, even if it’s a minor health condition, we give ourselves personal permission to seek help where it is needed. We can then look at addressing the way we are living and choose to make adjustments to our lifestyle to support us back to wellness.

But what if we keep describing ‘well-being’ in comparison to what is not ‘well’? Will we as a population continue to allow ourselves to steadily deteriorate in health and be happy to merely function and get through life, rather than live lives that are healthy and vital?

Is this what we really want for our future?

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The changing definition of well-being

Are we settling for a ‘well-being’ that is not truly well?

Filed under

Well-beingLifestyleHealth conditionsVitalityDiseaseIll health

  • Thumb small rachel hall

    By Dr Rachel Hall, Dentist

    Dentist, business owner, writer, author and presenter. Family woman, guitarist, photographer, passionate about health, wellbeing and community. Lover of Vietnamese food, fast cars, social media, café culture and people.

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    Photography: Desiree Delaloye, Entrepreneur, Creative Director, J.P.

    I embrace life as the school of self-awareness and self-responsibility it is.