Generally speaking when a person asks ‘Are you well?’ or ‘how are you?’ they are being polite. They do not want details about your health, recent surgery or other problems. To be well is to be free of illness or injury. If you are not free it is not polite to give details! But in recent years questions about wellness and well-being have become more than polite enquiries.
The term ‘well-being’ refers to the whole of a person’s existence, whereas ‘wellness’ is an approach to healthcare concerned with preventing, rather than treating, illness and prolonging life. Under the wellness approach individuals take responsibility for their own care, taking advantage of technological developments to monitor their health. Focussing on wellness now makes it easy to put off considerations of future health.
Concern for our wellness also makes us self-centred. We become obsessed with maximising our personal happiness with little or no consideration for others. And if we find ourselves thinking that wellness is a right does it mean that we have a right not to experience pain and suffering? The founder of the modern hospice movement, Cicely Saunders, sought not to remove pain but to enable the person to cope with pain. She was concerned to develop their wellbeing. Then they could live life to the full within whatever limitations their illness imposed.
If wellness becomes a right there is no guarantee of wellbeing and it is easy to avoid thinking about how and where we would like to die. Are you aware that this is Dying Matters Awareness week? Currently issues of death and dying are rarely addressed – but the idea of well-being covers every aspect of life, including our attitude to death and dying.
Interestingly recent research has found that parents looking for a school for their child (primary or secondary) have started to focus on wellbeing rather than academic standards. Parents are asking questions on how the school ensures the mental, physical and social wellbeing of children. I want to add spiritual well-being to that list.
Well-being – being well – is to flourish, to live life to the full whatever our situation. Are you well?