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What is Wellness?

By Alison Hand

The word wellness is used frequently in society. It is a word associated with good things or good health, but have you ever wondered how it originated? Where did it come from? Wellness is a modern word. However, its origins can be traced back to India, China, and Greece. The focus in ancient times was on holistic–natural approaches such as self-healing and preventative care. (2)

Early in the 1900’s people were dying from infectious diseases such as pneumonia and tuberculosis. However, today people suffer from chronic diseases associated with lifestyle choices such as smoking, inactivity, poor food choices, high blood pressure, and high stress. This change from infectious diseases to chronic diseases had people in the medical community thinking about choices and the impact those choices have on our health. A paradigm shift began in the 60s when a few physicians began looking at a holistic approach where the focus is on the whole person and not the presence or absence of disease. (1)

During the 1960s and 1970s holistic wellness started in the writings and teachings of two U.S. doctors: Dr. Halbert Dunn and Dr. Bill Hettler. Dr. Dunn is known as the “father of the wellness movement.” He wrote a book, High-Level Wellness, published in 1961, and defined high-level wellness as “involves direction in progress forward and upward towards a higher potential of functioning.” (3) This shift moved away from a disease towards a focus on the whole individual. The Global Wellness Institute defines wellness as “the active pursuit of activities, choices, and lifestyle that lead to a state of holistic health.” (4) Wellness is about personal choices and actions, not a state of being static or passive. It’s looking at an individual holistically made of many parts that are unique and work together with one another. Wellness is about self-responsibility regarding choices and actions.

Dr. Bill Hettler's Model

As the movement began to progress and take shape, there was a shift to a wellness model. Dr. Bill Hettler invented the six-dimension wellness wheel in 1976. The six dimensions are occupational, physical, social, intellectual, spiritual, and emotional. His invention is not linear but circular. He wanted to emphasize that each dimension is just as important as the next. (5)

Dr. Peggy Swarbrick is the inventor of the eight dimensions model. The dimensions include: emotional, intellectual, occupational, social, financial, physical, spiritual, and environmental. Dr. Swarbrick states, “A conscious, deliberate process that requires a person to become aware of and make choices for a more satisfying lifestyle.” She uses the terms choices and lifestyle. Thus, creating a clearer picture of the term wellness. (6) Each dimension affects the overall quality of life and is important to a person’s overall well-being. Here is a brief description of each dimension according to the Life of Wellness Institute:

Dr. Peggy Swarbrick's Model

Emotional Dimension: Understanding your feelings and coping with stress.

Environmental Dimension: Living in harmony with the Earth and taking care of and protecting it. Promoting interactions with nature and your personal environment.

Financial Dimension: Learning to successfully manage your finances.

Intellectual Dimension: Encountering new ideas and expanding your knowledge scholastically, culturally, and in community activities.

Physical Dimension: Maintaining a healthy body through exercise, good nutrition, and sleep, and seeking care when you need it. Paying attention to signs of illness.

Social Dimension: Encourage relationships with peers, co-workers, and family as well as intimate relationships. Creating a support network.

Spiritual Dimension: Developing a set of values that help you seek meaning and purpose. It can be represented in many ways through relaxation or religion. (7)

Wellness is a journey towards having a good quality of life. The choice is yours and the self-responsibility lies within. We can continue forward in this pursuit keeping in mind the eight dimensions of wellness and the important role each plays in our overall well-being, seeking holistic harmony towards good health.


  1. “ Wellness Defined - History of wellness”

  2. Canadian Journal of Public Health / Revue Canadienne de Santé Publique

  3. Vol. 50, No. 11 (NOVEMBER 1959), pp. 447-457 (page 447)

  4. Published By: Springer

  5. “Wellness Defined”

  6. “What is wellness?”

  7. “Mapping mental health: Dr. Swarbrick & The eight wellness dimensions”

  8. “8 Dimensions of Wellness”


Alison Hand, MS is the wellness director at Florida Presbyterian Homes. Both of her degrees are in health promotion. She loves to share her passion for wellness. When she’s not at work helping her residents achieve a good quality of life, she is spending her time with her family, running, reading, and sorority.

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