well-beingThis is the third post in our “3 Things to Know” series, an explanation of concepts influencing community mental health and our grantmaking. Check out others in this series: 3 Things to Know: Health Equity and 3 Things to Know: Social Determinants of (Mental) Health

“There is no consensus around a single definition of well-being,” writes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While that may be true, the CDC also affirms that we can more or less agree on a couple of well-established aspects:

“…the presence of positive emotions and moods (e.g., contentment, happiness), the absence of negative emotions (e.g., depression, anxiety), satisfaction with life, fulfillment and positive functioning.”

What TotalWellness founder Alan Kohll calls a “holistic state of being” has become a concept that’s continually present at the frontlines of mental health conversation, research and programs. Our Collaborative Approaches to Well-being in Rural Communities (WRC) initiative puts well-being front and center—as does our strategic vision.

Exactly what is it that makes well-being a guiding star for our public health goals and aspirations? Here are three reasons:

1. Well-being is holistic.

Well-being encompasses social, emotional, spiritual and civic aspects of life—without downplaying the importance of physical health. Improvements in any of these realms make us healthier.

Despite covering so much ground, well-being can still be measured and evaluated. Aggregated self-reporting can capture how a given group might be faring on something as subjective as, say, “satisfaction with life,” while objective markers like income and unemployment levels round out the big picture with concrete numbers.

Sherrye Willis, CEO of Alliance for Greater Works, is coordinating the foundation’s WRC initiative by using community-based participatory research methods—a way of collecting data, including the well-being of community members, that also invites them to be stakeholders in the project.

2. Well-being is distinct from wellness.

Despite their overlap, well-being isn’t a synonym for wellness. While wellness is also a holistic concept, it tends to be applied solely to physical health. We like to think about well-being as the mental health companion to wellness (physical health).

When we say “well-being,” we invoke an ongoing condition—a state of being—that requires more than physical health to produce feelings of satisfaction or fulfillment. Wellness is a big part of well-being, but well-being isn’t reducible to wellness.

The coalitions behind the Prevention Institute’s Making Connections for Mental Health and Wellbeing Among Men and Boys initiative, which operate in high-need community sites across the U.S., carry out interventions with six Pillars of Wellbeing in mind:

  • belonging/connectedness (e.g., feeling part of a community)
  • control of destiny (e.g., sense of purpose)
  • dignity, hope/aspiration, safety, and trust

These pillars work nicely with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Eight Dimensions of Wellness: emotional, environmental, financial, intellectual, occupational, physical, social, and spiritual.

3. Well-being is about more than just survival—it’s about thriving.

Even if we manage to make surviving a little easier—by overcoming social or economic barriers, for instance, or improving our environment—we might find that we still feel unsatisfied or unfulfilled.

Inequitable systems of care certainly affect our ability to meet our material needs. They restrict mobility, free time, and other capacities we need in order to regenerate, practice self-care, and be in community. But health disparities are also detrimental to our ability to imagine better lives for ourselves, and for each other—imposing limitations on hopes and dreams that might otherwise give people the power to take action and instigate change.

We consider it our mission to not only promote well-being, but help make it a reality for Texas communities. To make our communities not just healthier, but happier—and to help them not just survive, but thrive.