It is well known that a problem cannot be conceived as such until the concepts to define and limit it have been created. That is why, among other things, our current conception of what well-being should be has been extended to encompass aspects of human life that decades ago would have been unimportant or even neglected.
Today, however we speak not only of the importance of covering the basic needs of each of us, but of a realm of potentialities much wider than the possibility of feeling good physically . This concept has been called wellness .
wellness is an idea that more and more therapists and psychologists are working with, but also hotel organizations with spas and agencies that offer weekend experiences. What is wellness and why is it so popular?
Wellness: a new concept of well-being
What we understand by wellness today is derived from the ideas of Halbert L. Dunn , an American statistician who is considered the father of the Wellness Movement . In the 1950s, Dunn developed the idea of wellness with the understanding that human well-being had to go beyond what had hitherto been encompassed in the field of health. Thus, this concept had to include, in addition to the correct functioning of the organism, the capacity to opt for various ways of self-realisation.
In this way, the wellness of which Halbert L. Dunn spoke can be understood as the dynamics and lifestyle through which human potential is brought to its maximum in the spheres of the physical, the mental and the spiritual . As the theorisation of wellness includes the acceptance of the existence of a mental and spiritual world in addition to the physical one, this concept is used especially in the circles of influence of alternative medicine and non-experimental psychology.
Since the 1950s, and especially with the impetus given by the New Age culture in the 1970s, this idea of health has spread to spa centres, spas and wellness hotels, but also to travel and experience programmes offering wellness weekends and long stays dedicated to improving living standards.
A matter eternally deferred
This new understanding of well-being did not come about by chance in the middle of the 20th century. There are reasons why today there are many wellness centres and a century ago this idea was not even raised. This is because the changes in social conditions have made it possible for the philosophy of wellness and integral health to spread .
It is curious that, although human societies in the West have assumed for many centuries the existence of a separation between the body and the soul, all their efforts in the sense of improving the quality of life of people (that of the wealthy classes, in particular) have focused only on the physical sphere. The spiritual realm , which is understood as linked to the divine and seems, therefore, much more important than the “simple carcass of flesh and bones”, takes on all the prominence in the practice of creating ideal living conditions.
A chosen few
The feeding of the soul was something that was reserved for very reduced elites and their environment, even though there was always some philosopher who, even though he had problems surviving, was determined to give an answer to this type of question.
Of course, until not so long ago, it was difficult to try to respond to a repertoire of needs as difficult to define as those in the spiritual realm, and even less so with the scarce resources and limited technologies available. How could the ancient Romans, for example, who depended on the denial of the human character of their slaves to maintain an acceptable standard of living for themselves and to use their services in complete freedom, have spoken of wellness?
Today, however, talking about wellnes is already possible . And it is, among other things, because we already have the resources and the technology to not keep on postponing indefinitely the fundamental question: what about the well-being of our mind?
Wellness in the welfare society
It is not surprising, therefore, that this notion of what wellness is practically coincides with the emergence of the welfare state, shortly after the Second World War . As the basic needs of more and more social strata were being covered thanks to the redistribution of wealth, it was easier to take the scope of all positive human values further .
It is at this point that we begin to talk more about freedom , the autonomy to be able to choose a lifestyle adapted to one’s own way of being and doing things. It is also at this time that the idea that well-being should attend to issues not dealt with until now begins to spread. Many psychology professionals are beginning to focus their interventions on the need not only to treat mental problems, but also to help lead patients to happiness and self-realization. The needs of the spirit, reformulated as the needs of the mind, become some of the main objectives.
Thus all ideas related to health and fitness have been imbued with the notion of wellness: from plans to lose fat, lose weight and keep a flat stomach, to treatment plans for sick patients or to help with healthy diet plans .
As it always happens with the concepts that appeal to a spiritual world that functions by logics different from the physical realm, the wellness in its original definition is not something that is taken into account too much in scientific psychology nor in conventional medicine . Research and intervention plans from these instances tend to focus on the study of subjective experience and the placebo effect , but not on the consideration of areas of wellness detached from normal biological and physiological processes.
It is clear that weight loss plans could work better if the idea of wellness is internalized and assumed by the patients, and that hotels can improve their economic results if they include a wellness center in their services, but this does not tell us much about a field of human needs that is separated from the rest of the fields of physical health .
So while many spas, hotels, travel agencies and alternative medicine organizations may find the idea of wellness useful, it is not a universal truth.
Believing in wellness can open the door to a new way of developing happiness and enjoying life, but not doing so does not make us people who are far from authentic wellness.