What is wellbeing?
Wellbeing is used in a wide variety of circles from health to fitness, and the corporate world is now utilising wellbeing measures to de-stress staff. There is no universal definition or agreed meaning. Majority of organisations promote wellbeing similar to the World Health Organisation as physical, mental and social.
‘Well-being is not a beach one can go and lie on and all will be better; it is more a dynamic dance with movement and functionality.’ – Dodge et al 2012
World Health Organisation (WHO) promoted in their definition of wellness the spiritual aspects and connections in community as key focal concerns; however, in their main working statement they focused on three key areas: physical, mental and social wellbeing.
Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community. Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease of infirmity. – World Health Organisation 1946, 1997
In 2011, WHO incorporated the fourth element of health. They understand the spiritual to operate in their domains: self-evolution, self-actualisation and transcendence. There are broad and narrow definitions, both historical and current, in a research paper that I wrote. From the literature review, these definitions of wellbeing encompasses improved quality of life, physical and mental health, positive overall wellness and resilience in times of stress. It was commonly seen that if one feels good this increases wellbeing and social activities in the environment, while if one does not feel good this decreases wellbeing and one tends to withdraw to isolation.
How conscious are we about how we live day-to-day? Do we give a reflective conscious thought about who we are? What makes us what we do? Why we socialise with the people we do? Fowler (1987) states we are embedded in non-conscious dependence with awareness and reflective consciousness that comes gradually throughout life.
Most of our being, during most of our lives is nonconscious and nonreflective ;
nonetheless, it is structured energy and action.
– Fowler, 1987, p85.
We move with energy and action, and often with motivation and enthusiasm, to achieve a goal and then do it all again. How often do we stop and consciously reflect upon our actions, our emotions, our social networks, our needs, our intellect, our wants, our beliefs, our wellness, our environment and our economic state? These all make up our wellbeing. Researchers who conclude that wellbeing is the state of ‘eudaemonia’ and/or ‘euphoria’ fails to recognise the importance of our whole selves and the interplay in all the relationships of others, animals, nature, environment and the universe.
As surgeons need to be highly trained, so they heal rather than harm; those of us who intend to grow and help support people in mental health and wellbeing also need to undergo the cleansing and liberating of heart and soul in order to build strong positive wellbeing into individual lives. If a practitioner exudes their own praxis of care that feeds more their own desires and needs rather than a ministry of presence, this feeds their identity and wellbeing, but it could have a negative impact on their clients and community.
There are three aspects to identity: cultural, social and personal (Baker, 2009, doctoral thesis). Cultural identity is the process whereby individuals internalise their participation in social structures and within their own cultural practices that are part of their self-concept. Social structures includes aesthetics, ancestry, heritage, language, patterns, religion and traditions. Social identity is belonging to groups within a culture where the individual is shaped by the group’s characteristics, such as age, gender, ideology, neighbourhood, spirituality, social class or work. Personal identity is an individual’s unique characteristics, such as personality, talents, quirks and preferences. All these identities are independent and linked to who we are and forms part of our wellbeing.
Dr Baker’s wellbeing model
Through my research on wellbeing, I have developed the most comprehensive wellbeing model available with 13 categories and 69,120 permutations. The model covers our whole self.
The model incorporates 1) four domains: personal, communal, environmental and transcendental; 2) five dimensions: physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual; and 3) four elements: vocational, external, recreational and affectional. Each of these are interconnecting and interrelating on multiple levels.
The personal domain
The personal domain is the driving force behind wellbeing. As one intra-relates with oneself in their meaning, purpose and values in life they have more self-awareness, sense of identity and self-worth. Self development is essential in order to experience life, find meaning and grow through personal challenges.
To be ‘self’, Fowler (1987) describes it as a reflexive matter: it is the triangle of understanding self between self-self, self-other and self-Ultimate. This is the interconnection between all four domains. When our basic psychological needs are met (Maslow’s hierarchy of needs), that is food, shelter, safety, then motivation to live a successful, significant, fulfilled, satisfied, happy, fun, secure and peaceful life occurs (Anderson, 2000). These things help towards having a positive wellbeing; whilst anger, high expectations, depression, anxiety, dependence on others from a low self-esteem can give a negative impact on our wellbeing.
This is visible in a homeless person where their basic needs are not met. When I was homeless as a 16 year old, the only thing that kept me going day-to-day was the hope that I will be one day out of the predicament I found myself in and that I will discover the meaning of love and indeed life. Certainly peace, happiness, security and fun were all missing; in fact, I would consider for most of the time I was sitting alone on the ‘environmental square’, but the central idea of being in a community still exited regardless of how bad life seemed. A 16-year-old female living in a suburb in a lovely family home or a homeless teenager living in a city refuge can both feel lonely at the deepest level personally.
The communal domain
Fisher (2010) understood the communal domain in his research as the quality and depth of interpersonal relationships, between self and others, relating to morality, culture and belief, that is expressed in love, forgiveness, trust, hope and faith in humanity. Throughout history we have seen a progression in the continuing quest for in-depth relationships with others as we know within ourselves it builds on our personal search for meaning and purpose and brings great satisfaction in our lives.
Erikson (1982) developed eight psychosocial development stages were are selfhood, independence, identity and self-worth may be developed or crushed, depending on how we resolve issues and interact with others. Each stage is characterised by a psychosocial crisis, a turning point, where individuals experience a temporary state of conflict and disequilibrium. A local community group in central Bangladesh struggle with this conflict on a daily basis. They go into Muslim communities to help support people in community development, but internally they are outcast by their beliefs. Each day they live in fear if they are caught with a Bible or praying for others they would be shot. Having sat with them myself in 1998, with a guard outside the door, windows locked with memory verses and whispering in the dark, we connected communally and transcendentally on a level that expanded my experiences. Developing as people in isolating communities and hostile environments of any kind can certainly shake our inner wellbeing and create conflict in our development.
It has been generally considered in the literature that if one has high levels wellbeing, then they will participate more in community, be happier, more satisfied, develop as a person, fulfilled and make contributions to that community (Baker, 2009).
The environmental domain
The environmental domain goes beyond the care and nature for the physical and biological to a sense of awe and wonder of the intricacies of life, with the notion of unity and harmony within the environment. Washington University (2012) expressed that awareness and appreciation in the environment is an essential part of our wellbeing, as all human activity impacts on the environment and essential services sustain life. In Australia, Deakin University views this domain differently as covering life in Australia overall; moreover, it is how we operate nationally on economic, environment, social, government, business and security levels (Cummins, 2010).
As the human journey has evolved to today, the environment is set on the brink of regression, exploding population, physical challenges, global warming, pollution, decreasing natural resources, water shortages, high crimes, threats of terrorism and diseases out of control. These things question our basic needs of safety and security. Insecurity can creep into our personal and communal domains based upon temporal things we have no control over. The people who dismiss the Transcendental domain (4th) may feel like they are heading fast on a collision course environmentally. It really depends on where they place their hope, trust and beliefs.
The transcendental domain
A majority of the literature believed in a higher power and understood that it was an essential part of our wellbeing. Fisher (2010) described this domain as ‘the relationship of self with some-One of some-Thing beyond the human level involving faith towards, adoration and worship of, a source of Mystery of the Universe’. Fisher believed that our existence and belief in a higher power (or not) has the potential for influencing quality of relationships and development in all of the other three domains.
In the effort of bringing an interaction between human and divine is the praxis of God requiring the praxis of human responsiveness between self and God; self, neighbour and God (Fowler, 1987). Based on Scripture, the goal for success is to carry moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly and sisterly kindness, love, joy and peace (Rom 5:1, John 14:27, Phil 4:6-7, Col 3:15-16).
In order to see outcomes of the transcendental domain this can be facilitated through discovering meaning and purpose out of self-transcendence, a sense of morality, engagement with a community with similar values and spiritual practices, faith context, behaviours or experiences in finding hope in the face of increasing vulnerabilities.
Wellbeing cannot be only defined with the interaction with self, others, the environment and the Creator; there are five dimensions that take place through these interrelationships that define the individual, the community and the culture that causes the shift between having a healthy wellbeing or an unhealthy one.
The physical dimension
The physical dimension affects the quality of life for tomorrow. It was mentioned in fifteen articles and was also named as health, medical and nutritional. The physical dimension includes satisfaction with health, weight, immune system, healing, energy, seeking professional advice, life expectancy, long-term illness, disability and mental health.
Achieving an optimal wellness can be done through building strength, flexibility, endurance, optimal nutrition, exercise, well managed sleep and making healthy lifestyle choices will affect the physical dimension and essentially quality of life.
The mental dimension
The mental dimension was mentioned in ten articles and also known as intellectual, rational and educational. An active mind is essential for overall wellness. A person who is open to new skills, learn and reflect, respond, follow and lead, trust and make good decisions affect wellbeing at the individual level.
The more we question, unfold and desire to know the truth, be equipped for every good work adequately, then the more are intellect will expand, our wellbeing will be positive.
The emotional dimension
The emotional dimension is the recognition of healthy behaviours to satisfy personal, communal and transcendental goals. It was mentioned in twelve articles and was also named as psychological and behaviour.
In recognising, understanding, experiencing and expressing a range of healthy emotions this in turn constructs healthy behaviour and satisfies personal and social goals. The emotional level includes laughing, expressing, being responsible, relaxing, good self-esteem, discussing problems, being flexible, adaptable, positive and stable.
The spiritual dimension
The spiritual dimension is the outworking of the interconnecting layers of the Transcendental and Personal domains that often plays out in the Communal and Environmental where we feel closer to the Creator through interaction with the Created (humans, animals, nature, the universe). It is within this dimensions that we can discover more of who were are, our meaning and purpose that are consistent with personal beliefs and values and through sharing our life story (Baker, 2009; MacKinlay, 2001; MacKinlay & Trevitt, 2007; Spirituality and Well-being Strategy Group, 2013; and Washington State University, 2012). Spiritual was mentioned in twelve articles on wellbeing and was also called self-acceptance, purpose / meaning in life, identity and search for a higher being.
According to WHO’s new definition of health, the spiritual dimension embrace a selfless approach to life where our reflections are based on reaching out to others and God, responding out of a sense of compassion, love and concern, being sensitive to others needs, and being concerned for total health (cited in Dhar, 2011).
Tribal traditions understand their spiritual beliefs and practices more than anyone as they interrelate all aspects of the spiritual and primary relationships with their health and wellbeing. The RAND Project (2013) discovered in their research that spiritual coping was an important concept where people used beliefs as a course of comfort to deal with stress and strain. This was through a variety of ways including nurturing, enjoying nature, identity, belief, caring, selfless, empathy, confidence, peace, hope, closeness to God, community, contentment, living, meditation, prayer, arts, music, gardening, optimism, personal expression of the inner being, sense of belonging.
The social dimension
The social dimension goes deeper than the Communal domain. We acknowledge the need for relationships in the Communal, while the Social is directly linked to our feelings and how we express them that develops our wellbeing. Social was mentioned in fourteen articles and also named as behavioural (group), relational and communal.
It includes impressions, participation, interactions, connections, listening, relationships, talking openly and honestly, being vulnerable, considerate, perceptive, open to learning, satisfaction with family, social life and someone to rely on in a crisis. It also is expressing in accepting and affirming relationships (Rom 5:8, 15:7), forgiving and accepting one another (Eph 4:32) and brotherly sisterly love (Rom 12:10; Phil 2:1-5).
These five dimensions are core to our very being. How much each dimension connects with the four foundational domains depends upon the individual. For example, a refugee mother working endlessly for her family, participates in a community group learning English and how to establish a vegetable patch, can develop a health wellbeing through (1) lifestyle choices in the physical dimension that impacts on the personal, communal and environmental domains; (2) thinking creatively in the mental dimension and participating in the social dimension that impacts on the same three domains; and (3) expressing healthy behaviours in the emotional dimension satisfying personal, communal (both family and asylum seeker group) and transcendental goals.
Or another example, a trauma survivor trying to battle addiction and mental illness, develops a healthy wellbeing through (1) discovering self in art and meditation through the spiritual dimension that explores the personal and transcendental domains; (2) connects with other likeminded people in affirming their life’s work in the social dimensions that interrelates with the personal, communal and transcendental domains; and (3) finds the ability to be more adaptable and free in his emotional energy connecting with the personal, environmental and transcendental domains.
In each individual case, it depends on what task we are accomplishing, what our values and beliefs hold, what we strive for, how positive our attitude is, if our behaviour reflects our attitude and how far we go depends on how much courage we have. Courage is faced by the individual at every testing point in our wellbeing. At the physical dimension during exercise when we believe our body cannot be pushed any further, or at the mental dimension when we feel we cannot get our head around a concept, or at the emotional dimension when we feel too defeated to carry on, or at the social dimension when after a hard day it just all seems too much to participate, or at the spiritual dimension in the discovery of who we are and the purpose of why we are here, are we courageous enough to truly believe and take that leap of faith? Courage can take us to another level in survival, in living, in learning, indeed in believing. For the homeless teenager, she faces courage each day to merely live. For the refugee, she faces courage in their journey to the unknown. For the Christian living in a Muslim community, he faces courage every single time he walks out of his home. For the trauma survivor, he faces courage in coming to terms with the past, the present and the future.
The wellbeing model cannot be complete at this point, there are four elements that play a role towards being satisfied, healthy and happy – our needs. These add to the quality of life for all.
The vocational element
Often in life we are asked ‘what do you do?’ as if this question defines us. We could be deceived in believing that what we do determines who we are (Anderson, 2000). The vocational element is not limited to paid work or the achievement of a career. It includes any task that we set our hearts upon achieving, but it is also not the act of getting the task done, vocation is the journey along the way. The more we get involved in a particular action, the more the significance of our human lives evolve and it comes into focus at the single point of who we are. It is not about what we have to offer, nor is it about what we can do to help, but in finding meaning. Aligning our goals and desires with our purpose.
The external element
It is a fact of life that we need money to survive; however, the external element goes beyond the individual. Individuals need to have informed decision making and personal empowerment to use wisely, live comfortably, save, invest and plan for the future (Everett, 2013; Washington State University, 2012). This in turn develops further understanding for providing for the family, caring for our future in Australia and understanding the economics of the world. This has an impact on the personal, communal and environmental domains, negatively or positively, depending on our informed or misinformed knowledge and consequent actions.
Those who are poorer or richer in other ways, does not necessarily mean wellbeing is diminished. The African family who can barely feed their family wholesome nutrient-filled meals are ones who are richer in community and the spiritual far more than the Western family will ever experience. The lonely businessman who works long hours and hardly ever sees his family, maybe rich economically, vocationally and mentally, but is poor socially and may end up losing his family.
Insecurity comes when we depend on temporal things we have no control over; however, we know we have security in the eternal concept and we are reminded not to worry about things of this earth (Anderson, 2000). It is important to find the right balance.
The recreational element
An important part of our lives that feeds into our wellness is recreational activities both as an individual, like completing a hobby or doing exercise, and as a community, like participating in sports, music, clubs and church activities. This drives our passions, develops our skills and experiences towards expressing joy in something we enjoy doing on our own and/or with others. Completing a hobby may use inner abilities and passion that the daytime vocation does not fulfil. A run along the beach with a dog can take a depressed person into a state of euphoria. A retired old man in a nursing home sharing old carries with a cuppa to his fellow mates gives him a sense of dignity and worth.
The affectional element
I believe it is important to have an element that included ‘love’. Affectional is the state or quality of being (Dictionary.com). It carries various meanings in the mental process, as an emotion or feelings, a fond attachment and devotion, and can be described as an emotional realm of love. However, love is not a single entity, it is expressed in different ways and has different meanings that are not conveyed in the one English word. Four Greek words are all expressions of love that need to be present in our lives in our oder wellbeing to activate. They interact with all foundational domains and five core responses. (1) Agapao (also known as agape) is an unconditional self-sacrificial love; (2) phileo is an emotional love expressing deep friendship for family and friends; (3) eros is a sensual physical love that exists between two people; and (4) storge is satisfaction in being together as a family, between animal and human, or as expressing in the animal kingdom.
One of the most important elements of love, that modern society does not do well at, is self-love. We need to learn to love ourselves and accept ourselves before we can love others.
From the broad readings in this area utilising academic research, theological and philosophical resources and government papers, wellbeing includes thirteen areas that are all interrelated and interconnected.
“Wellbeing is the interconnection of self with others in the environment and universe that builds a stronger foundation, to understand our core responses and our needs leading to vitality and wellness.”
– Dr Mel Baker 2013
Whether one is a believer in a higher power or not, each person desires to have a sense of the ‘who I am’ (identity) with their Maker and the environment. Wellbeing alone cannot address these internal desires within. To live on the path towards wellbeing, that is utilising all dimensions and living within all domains, one must have a deeper sense of who they are (or willing to learn) and live in connection with others in come form. Having researched and analysed the material, I believe all domains, dimensions and elements are pertinent to any culture or community.
In uncovering the meaning, I believe wellbeing is therefore about:
- nurturing the foundation given to us – self, others and the universe;
- understanding who we are through our interactions and interconnections with all the dimensions and elements;
- bringing purpose and wholeness to our lives in the search of meaning;
- expressing love and joy, learning and achievement, towards personal empowerment; and
- developing resilience in times of stress, illness and crises.
This can be best illustrated by bringing all the dimensions together towards defining wellbeing.
Dr Mel Baker B.Min, Dip.Th, Grad.Dip, M.Ed, EdD
© Melissa Baker, 2020
To cite article: Baker, M. 2013, In defining wellbeing: final research paper, BCS, Sydney.