Wellness is one of those interesting topics that sound a little bit new-age and a little bit like grandma’s common sense! Whether you view the concept of wellness as a revolutionary thought or the revival of age-old wisdom, one thing is for sure—wellness is about the journey, not the destination. There is another absolute about wellness that is important to put on the table right from the start: Wellness is about the whole state of a person. It is far more than simply being healthy—as if that was a simple process! It is about attaining physical, mental, social and spiritual well-being.
Many of the strategies offered in these next pages will be directed toward helping you gain physical capacity, strength and resilience. Let’s be clear, these are very good qualities to have, and to have them in great abundance is even better. But the goal is to help you gain insight and meaning into the circumstances of your life and then to help you put your life to work for the betterment of the human condition. That betterment may be as a mother who better prepares her children for the world they will live in as adults. It may be for the businessman who sees the greater good and the greater harm that stem from his immediate decisions and then chooses to do what is best for the long haul of all involved. It may be for the politician or community leader who understands the awesome capacity his or her respective group, organization, community or culture has provided and then to act in the best interest of the greater good for humankind.
It has been said, “to whom much is given, much is expected.” Wellness is not a free ride. It requires hard work, attention to detail and persistence beyond imagination.What we contribute to our society through the good fortune of our wellness is one example–an example of how life can be lived to achieve more than our wildest imaginations could have ever dreamt. Whether you are a health care provider, a health advocate, a person desiring to live a better, fuller life or just a curious soul, the concepts of wellness dutifully applied will cause you to do a better job, be a better person and offer a greater example.One of the earliest authors and proponents of the concept of wellness in the 20th century was Don Ardell, Ph.D. Dr. Ardell continues to write passionately about the concept and pursuit of wellness. One of the most important contributions he has offered to this discussion involves the characteristics of the “wellest of the well”. He offers the following as signs for how we should recognize these paragons of wellness:
• High self-esteem and a positive outlook
• A foundation philosophy and a sense of purpose
• A strong sense of personal responsibility
• A good sense of humor and plenty of fun in life
• A concern for others and a respect for the environment
• A conscious commitment to personal excellence
• A sense of balance and an integrated lifestyle
• Freedom from addictive behaviors of a negative or health inhibiting nature
• A capacity to cope with whatever life presents and to continue to learn
• Grounded in reality
• Highly conditioned and physically fit
• A capacity to love and an ability to nurture
• A capacity to manage life demands and communicate effectively
A quick review of these characteristics reveals some very important insights: Health care providers have little to do with achieving these circumstances and for the most part they are matters of mental perspective as opposed to physical capacity. Quite simply, we can attain great physical prowess and not be very “well” at all. Conversely, we can be quite ill, on our deathbeds even, and demonstrate almost all of the characteristics of the “wellest of the well”.
Viewed from another perspective, we can consider the thoughts of Richard Smith, editor of one of the world’s largest, oldest and most respected journals in health care, the British Medical Journal (BMJ). In a 2002 editorial about the arts, health care, health costs and health care delivery systems, Smith posed a very provocative question, “Is it possible to be severely disabled, in pain, close to death, and in some sense ‘healthy’?” His conclusion was simple and unequivocal, “I believe it is”. Smith went on to note “Health has to do with adaptation and acceptance. We will all be sick, suffer loss and hurt, and die. Health is not to do with avoiding these givens but with accepting them, even making sense of them.”Smith’s discussion calls to mind Stephen Hawking, Ph.D., the world’s foremost theoretical physicist who has lived for decades in a wheelchair, communicating through a computerized speech synthesizer as a result of the ravages of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Hawking continues to lecture, research, learn, teach and grow. On his website he relates “I am quite often asked: How do you feel about having ALS? The answer is, “Not a lot. I try to lead as normal a life as possible, and not think about my condition, or regret the things it prevents me from doing, which are not that many.” Please remember he lives in a wheelchair, has nursing services 24 hours a day, communicates through a computer and he will eventually die a premature death from ALS. Stephen Hawking is healthier and displays more of the characteristics of wellness than most of the people you and I will encounter in our lives this week! Has Hawking been called upon or offered the opportunity to “adapt” more than most in this life? We would say, yes. Has he also had to accept more about this life than most? Again, we would say, yes.
We would like to offer one more illustration. This comes from the book Chasing Darkness written by Eugene O’Kelley. Mr. “O’Kelley died in 2005 from a brain tumor known as an astrocytoma multiforme. He had approximately 100 days to “unwind” his life as a middle-aged chief executive officer with one of the world’s most respected accounting firms, KPMG, a Fortune 500 corporation. In Chasing Darkness, O’Kelley offers how he dealt with the reality of his life, about the process of acceptance and adaptation to this development in his life. Like an accountant, he went about the end of life with great precision and orderliness. He related working from the outer circle of his world, those with whom he had the least bond and tie, to the inner circle, those who formed the core of his life—his family and closest friends. He chronicled his movement through these concentric circles of attachment down to last moments of his life. His effort was capped by his wife, at his request, following his death.
In the tragedy of his early death he managed to leave a perspective about being “healthy” and demonstrating “wellness” down to his last breath. Was there sorrow, sadness, grief, despair? We are confident it was present in Herculean measure. But those factors did not rule the day. His “well-being” continued throughout–past and beyond his illness. As you consider the strategies you will undertake to enhance the level of wellness in your life please understand that your efforts, while in a very real sense are a matter of enlightened self-interest, they are in fact in service to humankind. The more fully and the “weller” you live your life, so to are the lives around you—near and far—fuller, more rewarding and richer. Thank you for your pursuit of wellness. It is a pleasure to be a fellow traveler with you along this lifelong path.