What is wellness?

Updated: Jan 14

I was surrounded by a hundred students inside a lecture hall in Champaign the first time a professor asked us, “What is wellness?” The most widely used definition was thrown in all of its variations: “Isn’t it the absence of disease?” Yet, that answer didn’t seem to cover it.


The room was filled with young adults from all parts of the world: Students who grew up in Chicago who knew that health was shaped by social and environmental factors, students from Central Illinois who knew that sometimes health access can be far away from home, and students from other countries who knew that healthcare access was not equally distributed back at home. Even as we studied healthcare systems in the US, we knew that we were not doing it right yet.


So we focused on the individual. What does it take to be “well” as an individual? Again, the answer was not to be free of disease. We knew this because we understood about hypertension, the silent killer, and we knew about invisible mental health disparities. So how can we for certain know that ourselves or others are well? The answer seemed to be as dynamic and complex as nature tends to be: it’s multidimensional.


We were briefly introduced to the several dimensions of health. A concept I have carried with me and developed since the first time I heard about it in my undergrad years. To this day, I have followed this concept to go as follows:


Health is:

  • Spiritual: It goes beyond religion and precedes language. This is the intimate relationship with your Self, a relationship that breaks all recognizable barriers. It is the purpose and meaning you assign to yourself and to everything alive around you.

  • Environmental: It is the atmosphere, the seasons, the air you breathe, and bacteria around you, and the access to living nature. It is the external ecosystem nurturing the internal ecosystem inside you.

  • Social: It is your social circles, your family and friends, and everyone you share life and love with. Reciprocity manifests at its best here - you give love to others, and you get love in return.

  • Emotional: It is the all-inclusive garden of emotions. If each emotion was a flower, your emotional garden would be as beautiful as it is diverse. We manage our emotions as well as we can with the preparation that we give ourselves in life. Emotional strength is enhanced by the moments we laugh without care and the moments we cry, and grief when we care the most.

  • Physical: It is true that your body is a temple. You honor, respect, and give care to every system, every tissue, and every atomic part of it. From nutrition to exercise, you manage the input of what your body ingests (physically, mentally, and spiritually) and should expect your body to return the favor in health outcomes.

  • Intellectual: Since birth, and since we are able to speak, we have questions about the world around us. We also have questions about ourselves. Here we learn that knowledge of the Self helps with answering all other questions, from the most simple ones to the greatest philosophical questions in our human history.

  • Occupational: We each have a truth, and we communicate it in many ways. We are creations that seek to create. Which activities allow our spirits to best communicate with the outside world? What are the arts, crafts, and/or sports that make our intelligence, emotion, body, and spirit flow together?


As we continue, we come to understand that we hold agency for the decisions around our daily routines that help us experience health to a larger degree. Many of us are predisposed to disease and disparities, so we take it upon ourselves to challenge those conditions. More importantly, as we fight for equitable access to healthcare in the countries we live in, we come to realize that there is nothing more revolutionary than to be healthy.


Wellness is individual liberation. Then, it turns into collective liberation.


Your path to individual liberation has already started. You are in the middle of a health journey. Welcome aboard.


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