Health and Wellbeing

Here is a portion from my Master’s Thesis on health and wellbeing:

Health and wellbeing are multidimensional and overlapping constructs.  Health is a multicomponent concept: “a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (WHO, 2006).  The World Health Organization has not changed this definition of health from 1948 when the WHO Constitution entered into force, and retains this definition on its website today.  The WHO definition of health aligns closely with the definition of wellness endorsed by the National Wellness Institute (n.d.): “Wellness is holistic and multidimensional, encompassing physical, mental, social, and spiritual wellbeing.”  Wellness, according to the National Wellness Institute (n.d.), is a positive and affirming state of being and functioning.  Seligman (2011) has developed a model of wellness, defining and characterizing wellness as comprising—and requiring—the cultivation of five, what I might call, ways of relating to life and living, namely: the cultivation of (a) positive emotion; (b) engagement; (c) relationship, (d) meaning; and (e) achievement.  Wong (2015) said that wellness is an effortful and intentional process “involving personal responsibility and commitment” (p.1).

Self-perceived or subjective wellbeing is an evaluation of life as a whole in terms of overall happiness and the pleasantness of life (Diener, Emmons, Larsen, & Griffin 1985); the hedonic balance between positive and negative affective appraisals and (more cognitively driven) life-satisfaction (Chen et al., 2012; Corrigan, 2000).  Indeed, life-satisfaction is used in empirical studies as an indicator of subjective wellbeing (Mcdowell, 2006, p. 206).  Subjective wellbeing has a bidirectional relationship with health in general, possibly even contributing to its maintenance (Steptoe, Deaton, & Stone, 2015).  The literature has hotly debated the distinction between subjective and psychological wellbeing (e.g., Chen et al., 2012).  Psychological wellbeing is defined as the capacity to feel, think, and act in ways that enhance our inherent abilities to realize our self-potential (Chen et al., 2012), to enjoy life, and to deal with the inevitable and unavoidable adversities and challenges of life (Wong, 2015).  Experientially, psychological wellbeing is a sense of composure or (for some) spiritual wellbeing, and is the antithesis of feelings, and behavioural and physiological symptoms, of distress (parentheses are mine; Wong, 2015).  Interestingly, in their 2015 review paper of the associations between subjective wellbeing, health, and age Steptoe and colleagues (2015) collapsed across the hedonic and eudemonic distinctions, defining subjective wellbeing as comprising evaluative wellbeing (or life satisfaction), hedonic wellbeing (feelings of happiness, sadness, anger, stress, and pain), and eudemonic wellbeing (sense of purpose and meaning in life).  In collapsing across hedonic and eudemonic distinctions, I think Steptoe et al. have more fully captured the human condition within the human (subjective) experience of wellbeing.

Psychological distress is a common-sense index of general health and wellbeing.  Psychological distress is mental and social suffering in response to unmet needs, demanding life circumstances (Ridner, 2004), traumatic life events, or existential concerns.  Psychological distress is a sense of discomfort and distress accompanied subjectively by one or more of demoralization and pessimism towards the future, anguish and stress, self-depreciation, social withdrawal and isolation, somatization, and withdrawal into oneself (Masseé, 2000).  A defining and signal characteristic of psychological distress is that it does harm, either temporary or permanent, to the person (Ridner, 2004).


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