Multidimensional Wellness: Powerful Concept and Practical Tool
During my doctoral training, I found myself drawn to two seemingly different schools of thought - existentialism and cognitive therapy. On the one hand, I gelled with existentialism's angst and search for meaning (which finally explained my many nights lying awake as a small child "pondering life"). On the other hand, cognitive therapy's razor-sharp focus on thoughts, presuppositions, and beliefs - and what we could do about them - was truly empowering.
Yet I still felt something was missing. I could see how these two ideologies were compatible in the name of helping those with mental health challenges - but what about those who aren't experiencing mental health problems but simply want to improve their well-being?
Fortunately, I had a flashback to my tenure in my Masters program at Ball State University. At the alma mater of none other than David Letterman, I held an assistantship position with the John and Janice Fisher Institute for Wellness and Gerontology. It was there that I was exposed to the concept of multidimensional wellness, which purports that well-being depends on balancing and enhancing many aspects of life, each of which is important and relevant to the other aspects. The Institute suggests seven wellness dimensions:
Physical Wellness - Encompasses nutrition, sleep, exercise, weight management and other self-care habits to enhance health and prevent disease across the lifespan.
Environmental Wellness - Includes an awareness of the interdependence between ourselves and our environment, which fosters environmental maturity and stewardship. I also interpret environmental wellness as having a safe and secure dwelling in which one feels comfortable and nurtured.
Intellectual Wellness - Involves an appreciation and enthusiasm for lifelong learning, which promotes engagement in intellectually stimulating activities throughout the lifespan as well as the utilization of accumulated knowledge and experience for the greater good.
Social Wellness - Refers to the ability to create and sustain meaningful relationships with others throughout life. These relationships may include a spouse/partner, family, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances with common bonds such as community or religious activities.
Emotional Wellness - Signified by emotional balance rather than a constantly happy emotional state. Emotional well-being entails the ability to experience a wide range of emotions dependent on life's occurrences and the facility to express and cope with emotions through internal processing and reaching out to others for support. I also see stress management and reduction as fitting under this dimension.
Vocational Wellness - Involves understanding one's abilities, skills, and knowledge base and integrating those things with the kind of work found most meaningful and satisfying. Work is defined broadly as encompassing employment, volunteer activities, and other creative pursuits.
Spiritual Wellness - Includes reflecting on one's values and beliefs, coming to terms with one's existence, and ordering one's experiences and choices around these understandings. The actualization of spiritual wellness can vary greatly among individuals and may or may not be expressed through a religious lens.
I like to envision these seven dimensions as various windows to wellness. I believe that overall behavioral health and wellness can be achieved by looking through these windows and examining how we are living as well as how our thoughts may be impeding our wellness potential. In turn, we find meaning through the seven windows and can make real changes from within.
I've applied this model to my own life many, many times. My modus operandi is to write down the seven dimensions and cogitate on them. How am I doing in this area? How would I like to be doing in this area? What do I need to do in order to get from A to B? This process helps me (a) delineate important tasks, (b) remove superfluous tasks, and most importantly, (c) create a blueprint for how to move forward with my life.
What are your thoughts about these seven windows to wellness? Can you envision how you would use this powerful concept as a practical tool? I look forward to exploring these wellness dimensions more closely with you in the weeks and months to come.