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What Is This Thing We Call Well-Being?

Has well-being become just a buzzword with no real substance behind it?

Well-being. It’s a term so familiar to most Americans today but one that had no place in our cultural vocabulary not all that long ago.  When something seems to come out of nowhere and achieve virtual rockstar status with lightning speed, it’s easy to take it for granted or become lackadaisical about its true meaning. Has well-being become just a buzzword with no real substance behind it? Is it just a new path to profits and a way for companies to out-market each other? Or, is it something more?

A Basic Definition

Look up well-being in any dictionary and you’ll find it defined as “a state of contentment characterized by health, happiness and prosperity.”

Looking at this definition, it becomes apparent that well-being doesn’t just magically happen. You have to really want it. You have to actively go after it. You may well need help getting there. And, your well-being could look very different than the next person’s.

Peace, Love and Money

How did well-being gain such significance? Its early roots can be seen a half a century ago in the hippie movement. Society’s pendulum swung way to one side when a generation shifted the focus away from practical matters to those considered by them to be of some higher value.

Then came the exercise revolution of the 70’s. Jogging surged in popularity as a form of bettering oneself. People rushed to get fit. That drive found its way into the mainstream in the 80’s. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, yuppies worked hard at everything they did — making money, mastering step aerobics and even raising kids. Bing…the pendulum had swung to the other side.

Finding Balance

A pendulum cannot support such imbalance forever. Another shift began in the mid to late 90’s. But, instead going all the way to the other side again, it started finding places in between. The popularity of yoga is one example. One practiced in the U.S. only by hippies, by the early 2000’s yoga classes were filled with former (maybe even current) yuppies and hippies alike.

Talk of a mind-body connection sprouted. The seemingly revolutionary idea that the mind and the body really aren’t two separate things started to gain momentum. The ideals of the hippie era seemed to find a home in the practical world of yuppies. The lines began to blur.

Then came the recession. The financial upheaval that our nation experienced did as much or more to catapult well-being to the forefront of our collective attention. Personal and cultural values changed, seemingly forever, and well-being touches every one of those.

Hello Well-Being

In the past decade, the understanding of the mind-body connection has expanded even further. Now, the more all-encompassing well-being is acknowledged as both being impacted by and impacting every facet of our lives.

It can be physical. It can be emotional. It can be financial. It can be social. And so on. The link between our physical health and stress has been proven time and again. Financial worries are a leading cause of stress for Americans today. The need to address the total well-being picture cannot be overstated. It is truly a view of the whole person.

Let’s Ask Again

So, what is well-being? It is, in a way, the achievement of that sweet spot in the pendulum where balance exists in its purest form. Can it really be achieved? Yes and no. The thought of “achieving” something suggests it can be done — and over. Well-being is not a one-time thing. It is a living thing. You don’t just get there and say you’ve done it. You need to keep creating it. It may even change over time. And it is different for everyone.

A well-being consciousness possesses tremendous power in our lives. It moves us from mind over matter to know what matter to mind. We can be kinder to ourselves — and others. We can make better choices. We can be happier and healthier for however long we have to live. Well-being is a gift.

Editor’s Note:
This post was originally published in January 2016 with a focus on
wellness instead of well-being. While these terms are at times used interchangeably, we believe it is important to acknowledge the differences between them. Well-being encompasses all aspects of a person’s life and it is here that we believe the emphasis should be.

Many point to the inclusion of stress resiliency, financial well-being and even social connectedness as essential elements of individual well-being. While we wholeheartedly agree, we also believe that true well-being expands the definition of health. Some efforts in this space center around diet and exercise alone. However, we believe that true health connects the dots between things like excess weight and diabetes or a sedentary lifestyle and the risk of cardiovascular disease.

At WebMD, we never lose sight of these connections. Eating well or exercising are not end goals unto themselves. They matter for reasons far beyond the here and now. Today’s lifestyle changes truly can impact tomorrow’s health risks – or lack thereof. Similarly, engagement with a well-being program is about far more than checking a box on a fun app. It’s about making real changes for lasting well-being.

With this in mind, we are republishing this blog and hope that it serves as a positive guiding post for the new year.

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