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The total meaning of "wellness," part 1: overview

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Obviously, in order for us to attain “wellness,” we must have a clear idea of exactly what it is. So, what is meant by the word“wellness?” What does it mean to say that you are “well?” More and more we use or hear this word, but, interestingly, it has no universally-accepted definition. We generally refer to a “state of well-being,” which is quite vague, as is a “state of acceptance or satisfaction with our present condition.”

Upon examination of how science and other cultures look at “wellness,” the truth emerges that although wellness is indeed a tough word to define, for most people, it includes not only “physical health” but also several other aspects of life, which will all be examined in this series of articles and which each “weighs” about the same in terms of importance.

Professor Charles B. Corbin of Arizona State University gives this definition of wellness: “Wellness is a multidimensional state of being describing the existence of positive health in an individual as exemplified by quality of life and a sense of well-being.” The key word in this definition is “multi-dimensional.”

A good place to start in trying to answer these questions is language itself: American English compared to other cultures’ languages about health and wellness. Let’s start with the original (“native”) Americans. In Native American “wellness,” the Medicine Wheel represents harmony and connections and is considered a major symbol of wellness and of peaceful interaction among all living beings on Earth. A number of stone Medicine Wheels are scattered across the plains of North America. Some are extremely large with a diameter: nearly fifty feet across.

Medicine Wheels are still used today in the Native American spirituality; however most of the meaning behind them is not shared among Non-Native peoples. The medicine wheel is a symbol for the wheel of life which is forever evolving and bringing new lessons and truths to the walking of the path. “The Earthwalk” is based on the understanding that each one of us must stand on every spoke, on the great wheel of life many times, and that every direction is to be honored. Until you have walked in others' moccasins, or stood on their spokes of the wheel, you will never truly know their hearts.

Arab Bedouins have another perspective on what “wellness” means. When greeting each other, from northern Syria to Yemen, they ask “Shlonak?’ for men and ‘Shlonik?’ for women. That translates literally to “What’s your color?” Figuratively, it means, “How are all things with you, generally speaking?” (Your work, finances, feelings, relationships, et cetera)”One of our colleagues at Examiner, Bill Heenan, who has lived among the Bedouins for several years in both the Arabian Peninsula and Africa and who teaches Arabic at the University of New Mexico, told me, “In my experiences, Arabic is like English in that the questioner isn't looking for the truth, but just an expected, reassuring response about one's general ‘condition’ or ‘al Haal.’ The Bedouin ‘Shlonak?’ is unique. The actual word in Arabic for health ‘aS-SiHah’ is used only medically, or if you know someone's sick, or in a toast, equivalent to ‘to your health.’

“In Chadian Arabic, the inquiries go much deeper: you'd ask if the other person's house, kids, and work were good, with plenty of ‘Praise be to God (al Hamdulilah)’ thrown in”. The Arabs, so it seems, like the Native Americans, are on to the multi-dimensional quality of “wellness.”

If wellness is multidimensional, what are the dimensions of wellness? The most commonly described sub-dimensions are the following and will be examined in future articles in this series:

1. Mental/psychological/emotional wellness

2. Spiritual wellness

3. Physical wellness

4. Social wellness

5. Economic wellness

6. Intellectual Wellness

7. Occupational Wellness

Next article in this series: "Part 2: Mental/psychological/emotional wellness"

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