Shakespeare famously wrote, “What’s in a name?” The answer is a lot. Words, and how they’re mobilized, matter. The subtle ways that words evolve and the “work” they do have a major impact on how people think. Most of us have probably used the words “wellness” and “well-being” interchangeably. We probably haven’t thought much about whether there is (or should be) a distinction.  

Susie Ellis, the GWI’s chairman, predicts that this is about to change. She sees a (necessary) coming evolution where wellness gets firmly associated with health and prevention, and well-being becomes more associated with happiness. The reason?  People are beginning to pay more attention to “indexes,” such as the Gallup-Healthways “Well-Being Index” and the UN’s “World Happiness Report,” and are finding that happy countries aren’t necessarily healthy countries. Nor are healthier countries necessarily happy ones. 

Ellis recently wrote an article for the Huffington Post, where she delves into this issue while also addressing where spas fit into this conversation.

Read more on Huffington Post


11 thoughts on “What’s the Difference Between Wellness and Well-being? Or is There One?”

  1. I think wellness and well- being should be separately distinguished in the future. They both relate to different aspects of your overall health.

  2. The main distinctive difference is the context of these two meaning. The context of wellness is psychology and positive psychology but the context of well being is ontology. “Being” is a phrase that comes from ontological condition.

  3. The problem with some of the statements made about wellness is that readers obviously are not aware of the National Wellness Institute’s definition of wellness and their Six Dimensions of Wellness Model that has been in existence for over 40 years. The model does far more than address only physical wellness by including five other dimensions – social, intellectual, spiritual, occupational and emotional. In addition, many who have moved forward with establishing the concept of well-being on the premise that the term wellness is one dimensional were also not aware of how the leading organization in wellness defined the term. The term wellness is sufficient in the way it is defined by the NWI – “Wellness is an active process through which people become aware of, and make choices toward, a more successful existence.”

  4. Actually, the English did not much use “wellness” before 1972.
    Does that mean that they were not concerned with it or simply that it really doesn’t have a significant difference of meaning to that of “well-being”?

  5. Parks are for wellness and wellbeing Seearticle, “Experiencing amazement, wonder, & awe can change your ethical perspective.” M. Sommerville

  6. How is well-being defined from the CDC

    There is no consensus around a single definition of well-being, but there is general agreement that at minimum, well-being includes 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.4, 33-35 In simple terms, well-being can be described as judging life positively and feeling good.36, 37 For public health purposes, physical well-being (e.g., feeling very healthy and full of energy) is also viewed as critical to overall well-being. Researchers from different disciplines have examined different aspects of well-being that include the following4, 34, 38, 39, 41-46:

    Physical well-being.
    Economic well-being.
    Social well-being.
    Development and activity.
    Emotional well-being.
    Psychological well-being.
    Life satisfaction.
    Domain specific satisfaction.
    Engaging activities and work.

  7. Great article, bravo! I think another way to think about wellness vs well-being is that wellness relates primarily to our physical state (which is very much affected by our mental, emotional, spiritual state), while well-being relates to our mental, emotional and spiritual state (which is impacted by our physical health). So while they are closely related, they are different. And we need both to thrive!

    To add to the language/culture differences, in Chinese wellness is typically translated as "healthy" or "nurturing life" while well-being is described as "happiness" or "a sense of blessedness." So I think it confirms what you proposed as the distinction between wellness and well-being.

  8. Agreed! Great explanation of the difference.
    How this will translate to other languages is a great question – in Spanish, ‘bienestar’ is the translation for both wellness and wellbeing.

  9. Good point and I’m so happy to be reading about this.

    I’ve always found very hard to translate the word "wellness" to Portuguese, because there is no translation at all. We’ll have to adopt the English version as wellness – in my humble opinion – means so much more than well-being. Thanks Susie!

    Adriane Kinzel

    1. Agree! we have the same problem for spanish, no word for wellness… I just say it in english 🙂

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