Wellness is often thought to be synonymous with physical health, but it also encompasses mental and spiritual wellbeing. It is a holistic approach that reaches beyond mere health and toward mental, spiritual and physical well-being and reaching toward other positive lifestyle factors such as gratitude and success.
Bill Hettler originally conceived of six dimensions of wellness in 1976. Nowadays seven dimensions are commonly recognized (sometimes eight even). This article will consider the question: what is wellness? We will discuss the history of wellness, whereby there were originally just six parameters. We will look at the newer categories that have been since added since the 1970s. Finally, we will take a brief look at some recent research into this fascinating and important topic.
What is wellness?
So exactly what is wellness? According to the National Institute of Wellness: “Wellness is an active process through which people become aware of, and make choices toward, a more successful existence.” There is a consensus that wellness is (National Institute of Wellness, 2020):
- A conscious, self-directed and evolving process of achieving full potential
- Multidimensional and holistic, encompassing lifestyle, mental and spiritual well-being, and the environment
- Positive and affirming
The history of wellness
The concept was originally developed with a view to improving the life and well-being of university and college students. The guiding philosophy was the pursuit of high-level wellness, first defined by Halbert Dunn (1959) as, “an integrated method of functioning which is oriented toward maximizing the potential of which the individual is capable.”
The High-Level Wellness model was introduced by Dunn in 1959 and was pioneering in its time. Dunn’s model was followed by another highly influential model, proposed by Hettler in the 1970s.
The dimensions of wellness
Bill Hettler recognized the following six dimensions of wellness comprising a hexagonal model: Intellectual, physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and occupational dimensions of wellness. According to Hettler (1980) these dimensions of wellness embrace the following attributes and activities:
- Intellectual ––measures the degree to which a person engages with creative and stimulating activities; an intellectually well person makes the best use of available resources to expand upon their knowledge and skills
- Physical ––measures the degree to which a person looks after their cardiovascular health and is mindful of following a healthy diet
- Emotional ––an awareness and acceptance of one’s own feelings; the degree of positivity and enthusiasm about life
- Spiritual ––the commitment to seeking meaning and purpose in human existence; a deep awareness of the depth and expanse of life and an appreciation of the natural forces in existence in the universe
- Occupational ––a measure of work satisfaction and the amount of enrichment interconnected with this
- Social ––the degree to which an individual contributes to his or her community; this parameter emphasizes interconnectedness with others and with the natural world
Hettler conceived of a continuum between exceptionally positive and drastically negative parameters; a continuum therefore between total wellness on one end of the spectrum and premature death on the other.
The hexagonal model (comprising the six dimensions of wellness) was originally designed for implementation within the college campus environment at the University of Wisconsin –– Stevens Point (UW – SP) as a program targeted to well-being improvement. The model was then later adopted by the National Institute of Wellness.
A recognized seventh dimension of wellness is that of environmental wellness. This parameter involves recognizing the interconnections between the environment, community and self. The ‘environment’ can encompass a person’s daily surroundings such as home, university or college, work and neighborhood.
Another category that is sometimes also recognized is that of finance. As an example, the American-based organization, The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), have identified this eighth dimension of wellness as a personal feeling of satisfaction about one’s own financial situation. Finances are a common source of worry for many and the ability to manage this stress is an essential component to wellness overall.
Integrating body, mind and spirit
The original models of wellness were hugely influential when first introduced, originally for the purposes of improving the wellbeing of college students. The High-Level Wellness model introduced by Dunn in 1959 was the original, highly influential and pioneering model that integrated body, mind and spirit.
This model was closely followed by the Hexagonal Model proposed by Hettler. Since then, further categories have been added and new models have been proposed, for example the mind, body, spirit mediation model.
It is proposed that the mind, body, spirit mediation model offers greater explanatory power than previous models. This new model allows for added depth and can accommodate other interacting factors considered important to any conceptualization of wellness.
Researchers have studied new and important facets of well-being such as that of life satisfaction and the positive emotion of gratitude ––a parameter that can enable individuals to experience greater life satisfaction.
While our knowledge has undoubtedly grown, our core appreciation of wellness and its importance for improving human lives remains as important today as when it was first understood in the late 1950s.
- Green, Z. A. et al. (2020) The Body–Mind–Spirit Dimensions of Wellness Mediate Dispositional Gratitude and Life Satisfaction. Journal of Happiness Studies.
- Doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-019-00215-6.
- Hettler, B. (1980) Wellness Promotion on a University Campus. Family & community health.
- Doi: 10.1097/00003727-198005000-00008.
- National Wellness Institute (2020) The Six Dimensions of Wellness. Online:
- Princeton University (2022) Environmental Wellness. Online: https://umatter.princeton.edu/action-matters/caring-yourself/wellness-wheel-assessment/environmental-wellness.
- Roddick, M. L. (2016) The 8 Dimensions of Wellness: Where Do You Fit In? Online: https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/8-dimensions-of-wellness-where-do-you-fit-in-0527164.
- Stoewen, D. L. (2017) Dimensions of wellness: Change your habits, change your life. The Canadian Veterinary Journal. Online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5508938/.