Well-being as a lifestyle: 5 reasons why we invite you to make well-being your next health intention
By: Melissa McMillan & Dr. Nancy Markham Bugbee
Published: November 8, 2023
As healthcare consumers in the United States, we are bombarded with messaging about “wellness” and why living a life oriented toward eating the right foods, getting enough sleep, making time for exercise daily, and taking care of our mental health is import for our longevity. While taking care of our bodies and minds is good advice, it neglects the bigger picture of what we actually want to get out of our lives.
It’s a given that we all want to live longer and healthier lives, but it's just as important to take a moment to ask ourselves what the purpose of a longer and healthier life is if the actual content of our lives isn’t, at a minimum, reflective of what matters to us. At the Institute for Life & Care (ILC), what is equally as important to living a happy and healthy life is that we live a more fulfilled, meaningful life too. Enter Well-Being, a way to think about our total health from a bigger, more comprehensive picture. In this article, we will define well-being, explain how it is not just different from, but more important than, wellness, and give you five reasons why caring for your well-being will greatly enrich your everyday life.
What is Well-Being?
At ILC, we define well-being as a state of overall contentment and inner peace, rooted in a sense of deep connectedness to the people and world around us. It is a lifestyle choice that is present regardless of life situations or external circumstances. It manifests as a feeling of unwavering self-confidence and gives us the daily energy we need to navigate life’s many challenges. It’s a state of thriving, not simply surviving. Well-being is achieved, or developed, by embracing and nurturing the four dimensions of our human experience: the body, mind, heart, and soul.
How are Well-Being and Wellness different?
Contrast well-being with a term we hear about often in relation to our health: wellness. Wellness is concerned with the state of health of our body and our mind. With regards to the body, wellness has to do with how much energy we have each day and whether we feel like our bodies are healthy enough to tackle the demands of daily life. With regard to our mental health, wellness relates to whether we are mostly in a state of positivity throughout the day or week. While nobody can be in a positive mental state all day every day, being in a state of overall mental wellness means we are in a mostly positive balance.
Like wellness, well-being also includes the body and mind, but it is more comprehensive in that it includes two additional dimensions of our experience as human beings that often get ignored. These dimensions are our emotion center, which we call heart, and our soul/spirit dimension, which is a reflective space within ourselves that allows for meaning-making in the big-picture view of our lives. More specifically, well-being distinguishes the heart/emotion and soul/spirit characteristics of our human experience from where it typically resides in the “mind” category such that we can grow and care for each of these elements independently.
Why do we need to care about our heart and soul/spirit? Just like taking care of our mental and physical health are important for the quality of our daily life, including our emotion center and spirit in this effort gives greater meaning to our human experience. Increased connection with our heart and the part of us that bonds to something greater than ourselves allows us to find greater fulfillment and purpose in our lives. These dimensions give us the why and how of our everyday actions. Even more powerfully, integrating all four of these dimensions together reframes our relationship to overall health in a way that is a fundamentally different and empowering approach to living everyday life to the fullest extent we can, while we can. Well-being, in essence, is a lifestyle choice that is rooted in balance between these dimensions.
What Are the Four Dimensions?
The four dimensions to well-being are: body, mind, heart and soul/spirit. Together, they comprise the whole human being and the fullness of human experience. These dimensions are not entirely separate from each other, and in fact they are integrated. Being in a state of well-being means that the four dimensions are in harmony, or balance, with one another. If one is neglected, it has an impact on the others. By giving focus to each dimension on a daily basis, we experience a greater sense of wholeness, and we’re able to live more authentically.
The body refers to our physical experiences, the body that we each inhabit. The state of health of our body is important for us to give attention to, and we know from medical research that the health of our bodies can have an impact on the other dimensions of our being. For example, if we are in chronic pain, we will often have associated negative thoughts and emotions about that pain. Or conversely, if our bodies feel great, we can experience a flood of positive thoughts and emotions.
The mind is what we commonly think of as our thoughts or the “voice in our head”. How we experience our mind is just as important as the experience of our body in determining the quality (or lack thereof) of our everyday life. Our brains have evolved to be ever-vigilant towards threats, and we can be thankful because this watchfulness kept us alive as a species. However, hyper-vigilance and constant mental chatter can leave us in a state of chronic anxiety and fear. Additionally, the general level of uncertainty, unrest, division, and trauma we experience in today's culture has an impact on our mental health.
It doesn’t come as a surprise to us that this dimension of our being can have an influence on the other dimensions, just like the body can. When we have thoughts of danger, or imagine that we are in a hypothetically dangerous situation, we trigger fear responses in our body and cause ourselves to feel fear in our hearts. The dimensions of mind, body, and heart are so integrated, there can even be interruptions in some bodily processes when we have thoughts and emotions rooted in fear. See reference section below for a recent article by The Washington Post that demonstrates an example of this integration.
By using the word “heart”, we aren't referring to the physical heart that beats and pumps oxygen to the rest of the body. By “heart”, we mean the emotion and intuition center, the part of you that feels things like love, hate, and heartbreak. This is also the part that gives you a sense of intuition, or “gut” feeling. Scientifically, this part of our being usually gets swept under the “mind” rug, but we argue that it doesn’t belong there, and we use this simple distinction to explain why: feelings, intuition, and thoughts are not the same. Thoughts occur to us and are experienced in the mind. Emotions and intuition are connected to thoughts, but we don’t experience them the same way as we do thoughts.
Emotions are feelings that occur in the body, often times seeming as though they arise from the gut or solar plexus areas, and they are a fundamental way for your body to give you information about what you are experiencing. As an example, if someone has just crossed a personal boundary that you maintain, it is possible that you will feel anger or that something isn’t quite right in your gut. You didn’t purposefully generate the anger, it’s just something you realize that you are experiencing, if you pay close enough attention to it. Your body is giving you information that something has happened that isn’t right.
At the Institute for Life & Care, we believe that defining and engaging with our soul/spirit dimension is necessary in order to live an intentional, meaningful life. While the specific essence of the soul or spirit dimension is something that each person must understand for themselves, what is important is that we devote energy to this dimension daily.
While many people don’t pay much attention to this dimension of their humanity, the soul/spirit part of us exists within us whether or not we acknowledge it. This is because the soul or spirit connects us to something greater than just ourselves, and even if we don’t acknowledge this greater aspect of the world we live in, we are still operating within it. By increasing our awareness of the larger container that we live and operate within, and cultivating a sense of meaning in how we relate to that container, we give ourselves a greater sense of responsibility and purpose that drives us toward living and acting from a more noble place.
It is important to note that this dimension does not necessarily equate to having a specific religious belief, although it can. Every individual is encouraged to define what this term means for themselves. The “something greater than ourselves” definition can mean a connection to nature via a deep caring for our planet. Alternatively, it can be directed toward humanity at large, or the universe, or even a God according to your personal definition of what or who "God" is. The most important thing is to simply define it as honestly and intuitively as possible, and this definition is likely to grow or change as we develop as individuals.
As with the other dimensions, the nurturing of the soul/spirit dimension has an impact on the other elements of our being, particularly in regards to how we face, endure, or even thrive in times of difficulty or suffering. For example, physician and psychiatrist Dr. Viktor Frankl, founder of the meaning-centered sub-discipline of psychology termed Logotherapy, survived imprisonment and torture in multiple concentration camps during WWII by relying on his faith, focusing on the love he had for his wife, and maintaining hope for publishing a manuscript he had written. In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, he describes in detail how he endured some of the harshest treatments he experienced during his internment. In one specific situation, he explains being able to survive by picturing his wife clearly in his mind and imagining that they would be reunited once the war ended. Additionally, when crucial decisions regarding his survival were being made by the Nazis, he trusted in his faith to lead him, and found that he was better able to surrender to whatever was to be the outcome. Finally, Frankl found determination to overcome the impossible by testing his own hypotheses on human flourishing so that he could further refine his manuscript once the war ended. Accessing these aspects of his soul/spirit dimensions reminded him that he was part of something greater than himself: his wife’s life and the love they shared, his career in the fields of psychology and medicine, and his faith. Each of these components of Frankl’s noetic, or spiritual, dimension enabled him to direct his body, thoughts, and emotions toward survival.
As described in this example regarding Dr. Frankl, it is possible for the soul/spirit dimension to have the strongest influence on the other elements of our being. This is because it is in our nature as humans to wonder about the greatest mystery of our existence: why we are here and what we are to do with our lives. While there are no definitive answers for this question that ring true within each individual, each of our lives are most meaningful when we are connected to our own answers to these all-encompassing questions.
Why Is Well-Being Important?
Many of us move through our lives with a loose sense of why we live the way we do. Sometimes our “why” has been passed down to us, and sometimes we make more conscious choices in this regard, but we often don’t fully examine or question our assumptions to make sure they are still relevant to us. It is common for a catastrophic event to occur in our lives before we begin to inquire about our beliefs. When we do, we realize the beliefs and ideas we held no longer make sense given our new life situation. In these difficult experiences, we find that our perspective of the world, and we begin to wonder anew with regard to our place within it.
This is why defining and nurturing our connection with each of these dimensions now is one of the most important actions we can take to better understand ourselves and enrich our lives. It is paramount to ensuring we are living intentionally toward a greater purpose while we still have the time to do so. Furthermore, integrating these dimensions into our daily lives is one of the most important pieces to unlocking the state of inner well-being, because this effort will point us like an arrow toward the target of how we want to spend our lives. This inner work will provide the map and guide our decision-making in every situation we find ourselves in over the course of our lives, for as long as we maintain and nurture our connection with each dimension.
Once we have defined our relationship to the four elements of our being, we can take a step back and begin to orient our lives through action towards our responsibility to that “something greater than ourselves”. This is how we find our life’s purpose, the answer to what gives our lives more meaning. We begin to view our bodies, minds, hearts, and souls in terms of the backdrop of our greater purpose, which then leads us step by step along the path of growth, learning, and ultimately fulfilling that purpose. Without doing this work, we will aim our efforts listlessly, constantly wondering why we do what we do each and every day, ultimately ending up unfulfilled.
…the amount of attention we give to all four aspects of our human experience, the body, mind, heart and soul/spirit, dictates our level of contentment and overall satisfaction with our lives. These four elements of our human experience are integrated and present with us every day, regardless of whether we are engaging with them or not. By learning to integrate and nurture our connection to these dimensions, we set ourselves on a journey to discovering and living into the ultimate purpose of our lives. None of us knows how long we have to live, or how much time we have to unearth our authentic nature and live a meaningful life, which leads us to…
5 Reasons Why we invite you to adopt a Well-Being lifestyle:
1. Better connection with yourself. Well-Being will help you maintain a better relationship with yourself by learning who you are authentically are. You will better understand your core values and motivations. You will then begin to make life-enriching choices in the midst of life’s most difficult situations.
2. Better connection to loved ones. Here is a paradox: we can only connect to others as deeply as we connect with ourselves. Once we choose a lifestlye of well-being, we know ourselves better and can more easily give to others. This self-transcendence allows us to more deeply empathize with others and become a better parent, partner, friend, colleague, etc.
3. You will have a renewed relationship with something greater than yourself. This relationship gives us a sense of existential belonging, making us feel more energetic and positive about the world around us. We cannot live well without this connection to our soul/spirit.
4. You will develop a Re-Orientation towards life itself. Once you have done the work to integrate these four dimensions and root yourself in well-being, you will begin to re-orient yourself in ways big and small to be more in line with your purpose. It’s likely you will want to better align your strengths, choices, and responsibilities to something greater than yourself. This is fulfilling soul food, because it will lead to…
5. …Your contribution to making the world a better place. Doing the work of achieving a more permanent state of well-being benefits not only you, but everyone around you, even co-workers and strangers. You will be able to choose how you show up and respond in each of life’s situations, regardless of difficulty. You will eventually be triggered less and healed more. Ultimately, this is how we make the world a better place, by starting with ourselves.
While well-being helps us on the path of self-actualization and ultimately self-transcendence, it isn’t developed overnight. To develop the level of inner resilience that well-being endows us with, it requires that we make time and put in the effort for doing this internal work. This article highlights the importance of choosing well-being as a lifestyle, but how can you implement this intention into your life? For a How-To program that will guide you step-by-step in developing your well-being muscles, we invite you to take our online, self-paced, and proprietary program THRIVING FROM WITHIN®. We'll be there to support and guide you.
Start your journey toward a more fulfilling life of meaning and purpose today.
1. Johnson, A., & Gomez , C. (2023, October 17). Stress is weathering our bodies from the inside out. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/interactive/2023/stress-chronic-illness-aging/
2. Frankl, V. E., Kushner, H. S., & Winslade, W. J. (2006). Man’s search for meaning. Beacon Press.