Definitions of Well-being, Quality of life and Wellness

Definition  - well-be·ing   /ˈwɛlˈbiɪŋ/ Show Spelled[wel-bee-ing]


A good or satisfactory condition of existence; a state characterized by health, happiness, and prosperity; welfare: to influence the well-being of the nation and its people.
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 ArchiveWorkshopsRSS FeedDefinitions of Wellbeing, Quality of life and Wellness.Posted by Faisal Barwais on Monday, February 28th 2011 Some definitions of well-being

Broadly, well-being has been defined from two perspectives. The clinical perspective defines well-being as the absence of negative conditions and the psychological perspective defines well-being as the prevalence of positive attributes. Positive psychological definitions of well-being generally include some of six general characteristics. The six characteristics of well-being most prevalent in definitions of well-being are:

■ the active pursuit of well-being;

■ a balance of attributes;

■ positive affect or life satisfaction;

■ prosocial behaviour;

■ multiple dimensions; and

■ personal optimisation.

Gough et al (2007) defined well-being as ‘What people are notionally able to do and to be, and what they have actually been able to do and to be’(p.6). According to Angner (2008), even the philosophical literature refers to the ‘simple notion’ of well-being (i.e. ‘a life going well’) in a variety of ways, including a person’s good, benefit, advantage, interest, prudential value, welfare, happiness, flourishing, eudaimonia, utility, quality of life, and thriving. Seedhouse ( 1995 : 65) who summarises contemporary perspectives on well-being as follows:

Either: (a) ‘Well-being’ is an empty notion, or (b) ‘well-being’ is an important and meaningful term which conveys meaning no other term conveys (and, given further research, will be shown to convey this meaning universally), or (c) ‘well-being’ is ‘essentially contested’—its meaning and content fluctuates dependent on who is using it, and why they are using it.

McAllister (2005) defined well-being as More than the absence of illness or pathology […with] subjective (self-assessed) and objective (ascribed) dimensions. It can be measured at the level of individuals or society [and] it accounts for elements of life satisfaction that cannot be defined, explained or primarily influenced by economic growth (p. 2) (Camfield, Streuli, & Woodhead, 2010). Shin and Johnson (1978) have defined well-being form of happiness as “a global assessment of a person’s quality of life according to his own chosen criteria” (p. 478).

Subjective Well-Being (SWB) was defined by Deiner (2009) as the general evaluation of one’s quality of life. The concept has been conceptualized as the three components: (1) a cognitive appraisal that one’s life was good (life satisfaction); (2) experiencing positive levels of pleasant emotions; (3) experiencing relatively low levels of negative moods (Deiner, 2009).

Furthermore, well-being has been defined as “Play[ing] an active role in creating their well-being by balancing […] different factors, developing and making use of resources and responding to stress (Bradshaw et al. 2007: 136).

Some definitions of Quality of life

Quality of life has also been defined “as the satisfaction of an individual’s values, goals and needs through the actualisation of their abilities or lifestyle” (Emerson, 1985, p. 282).This definition is consistent with the concepmalisation that satisfaction and well-being stem from the degree of fit between an individual’s perception of their objective situation and their needs or aspirations (Felce & Perry, 1995).

The World Health Organization defines Quality of life as “an individual’s perception of their position in life in the context of the culture and value systems in which they live and in relation to their goals, expectations, standards and concerns. It is a broad ranging concept affected in a complex way by the person’s physical health, psychological state, personal beliefs, social relationships and their relationship to salient features of their environment”(Oort, 2005).

Quality of life is a broad concept that incorporates all aspects of life and has been used in a variety of disciplines such as: geography, philosophy, medical sciences, social sciences, health promotion, and advertising(Oort, Visser, & Sprangers, 2005). Ferrell, who has carried out a large research programme on pain and quality of life, defined quality of life as well-being covering four areas: quality of life is physical, mental, social and spiritual well-being (Ferrell, 1995).

Lindströ (1994) has presented a model where quality of life was divided in a different way into four life spheres /the global, external, interpersonal and personal sphere where the last one was represented by the physical, mental and spiritual dimension.

Some definitions of Wellness

In 2006 the World Health Organization published a review of glossary terms that defined wellness thus: Wellness is the optimal state of health of individuals and groups. There are two focal concerns: the realization of the fullest potential of an individual physically, psychologically, socially, spiritually and economically, and the fulfilment of one’s role expectations in the family, community, place of worship, workplace and other settings (Smith, Tang, & Nutbeam, 2006).

Wellness, defined by The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language (2000) is “the condition of good physical and mental health, especially when maintained by proper diet, exercise, and habits.” Both definitions suggest wellness as a static state of existence, yet the modern wellness movement is viewed as a dynamic process (Myers & Sweeney, 2005)

Over forty years ago, Dunn (1961) started the modern wellness movement through a series of short talks for radio on various aspects of well-being. In the first of the series of talks, Dunn defined high level wellness for an individual “as an integrated method of functioning which is oriented toward maximizing the potential of which the individual is capable. It requires that the individual maintain a continuum of balance and purposeful direction within the environment where he is functioning” (Dunn, 1961, p. 4).

Another physician, Dr. Travis, stated “high-level wellness involves giving good care to your physical self, using your mind constructively, expressing your emotions effectively, being creatively involved with those around you, and being concerned about your physical, psychological, and spiritual environments” (Travis & Ryan, 2004).

Inspired by the works of both Dunn and Travis, Ardell viewed wellness as a lifestyle “focused approach which you design for the purpose of pursuing the highest level of health with your capability. A wellness lifestyle is dynamic or ever-changing as you evolve throughout life” (Ardell, 1984). Ardell’s (1977) definition of a wellness lifestyle includes the incorporation of different topics ranging from self-responsibility to environmental sensitivity (Ardell, 1984). Watt, Verma & Flynn (1998), on the other hand, defined wellness as quality of life or a global measure of well-being based on perceptions, illness experience and functional status, and suggested that wellness programs were adjunctive treatments to conventional interventions.

A public health physician, Hettler (1984), defined wellness as “an active process through which people become aware of, and make choices towards, a more successful existence”. Connolly and Myers (2003) suggested that while wellness was an holistic concept and included physical, psychological and spiritual components, most business and industry settings focused on physical wellness and employers viewed wellness only as physical health (Connolly & Myers, 2003). Goss, Boyd & Cuddihy (2009) also described wellness as the active process through which the individual becomes aware of all aspects of the self and makes choices toward a more healthy existence through balance and integration across multiple life dimensions.
Moreover, Archer et al. (1987) suggested a more common definition of wellness as “the process and state of a quest for maximum human functioning that involves the body, mind, and spirit”. They purport that
wellness is both a process and a goal. In addition, the various definitions of wellness (Ardell, 1977; Dunn, 1961; Hettler, 1984; Travis & Ryan, 1981) are rooted in the physical health sciences and medicine. Even though there is some focus on mental and emotional aspects, their primary focus is on physical health. Advances in the understanding of wellness led Myers, Sweeney, and Witmer (2000) to propose a comprehensive definition of wellness as: “a way of life oriented toward optimal health and well-being, in which body, mind, and spirit are integrated by the individual to live life more fully within the human and natural community” (p. 252).


Angner, E. (2008). The philosophical foundations of subjective measures of well-being. Capabilities and Happiness, 286-298.

Archer, J., J., Probert, B., & Gage, L. (1987). Attitudes towards wellness. Journal of College Student Personel (28), 28, 311-317.

Ardell, D. B. (1984). Perspectives on the History and Future of Wellness. Wellness Perspectives: Journal of Individual Family and Community Wellness, 1(1), 3-23.

Bradshaw, J., Hoelscher, P., & Richardson, D. (2007). An index of child well-being in the European Union. Social Indicators Research, 80(1), 133-177.

Camfield, L., Streuli, N., & Woodhead, M. (2010). Children’s Well-being in Developing Countries: A Conceptual and Methodological Review. European Journal of Development Research, 22(3), 398-416.

Connolly, K., & Myers, J. (2003). Wellness and mattering: The role of holistic factors in job satisfaction. JOURNAL OF EMPLOYMENT COUNSELLING, 40(4), 152-160.

Diener, E. (2009). Subjective well-being. The Science of Well-Being, 11-58.

Dunn, H. (1961). High-level wellness for man and society. American Journal of Public Health, 49(6), 786-792.
Emerson, E. (1985). Evaluating the impact of deinstitutionalization on the lives of mentally retarded people. American Journal of Mental Deficiency, 90(3), 277.

Felce, D., & Perry, J. (1995). Quality of life: Its definition and measurement* 1. Research in developmental disabilities, 16(1), 51-74.

Ferrell, B. (1995). The impact of pain on quality of life. A decade of research. The Nursing Clinics of North America, 30(4), 609.

Goss, H., & Cuddihy, T. (2009). Wellness as higher education curriculum: A comprehensive framework for health education and promotion. Creating Active Futures, 319.

Gough, I., & McGregor, J. (2007). Wellbeing in developing countries: from theory to research: Cambridge Univ Pr.

Lindströ, B., & Henriksson, B. (1996). The essence of existence On the quality of life of children in the Nordic countries. International Journal of Social Welfare, 5(2), 117-118.

Myers, J. E., & Sweeney, T. J. (2005). Counseling for wellness: Theory, research, and practice: Amer Counseling Assn.

Myers, J. E., Sweeney, T. J., & Witmer, J. M. (2000). The wheel of wellness counseling for wellness: A holistic model for treatment planning. Journal of Counseling & Development, 78(3), 251-266.

Oort, F. (2005). Using structural equation modeling to detect response shifts and true change. Quality of Life Research, 14(3), 587-598.

Oort, F., Visser, M., & Sprangers, M. (2005). An application of structural equation modeling to detect response shifts and true change in quality of life data from cancer patients undergoing invasive surgery. Quality of Life Research, 14(3), 599-609.
Seedhouse, D. (1995). ‘Well-being’: health promotion’s red herring. Health Promotion International, 10(1), 61.
Shin, D., & Johnson, D. (1978). Avowed happiness as an overall assessment of the quality of life. Social Indicators Research, 5(1), 475-492.

Smith, B., Tang, K., & Nutbeam, D. (2006). WHO health promotion glossary: new terms. Health Promotion International, 21(4), 340.

Travis, J., & Ryan, R. (2004). Wellness Index: A Self-Assessment of Health and Vitality: Celestial Arts.

Live Well!
Marie Joshua
Wellness Practitioner and Psychological Counsellor.


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