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What's the difference between wellbeing, health and wellness?

14 Dec 2017

'Wellbeing’ is a forever-expanding area of research, and to this day, remains a contested word, with various definitions and spellings. Nevertheless, its importance is increasingly paramount; influencing how we spend our lives, to the environment in which we spend it.



Although we know that this puzzling phenomenon floats around definitions of happiness and comfort- what does wellbeing actually constitute? Despite a vast research base, wellbeing is characterised as a multidimensional concept that varies depending on the individual and their culture.


Wellbeing consists of two main components: how satisfied we are with life and how comfortable we are in our present situation. Our wellbeing is not only affected by a healthy environment but by our relationships with others, exercise, a sense of purpose and sleep, among many more factors. But how does wellbeing differ to health and wellness?



Health is defined by the World Health Organization as a “state of complete physical, mental, and social wellbeing, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” In light of this, health can be viewed as an umbrella term associated with our physical and mental state; shaped by our genetics and our environment. Wellbeing is a keyword of health and is characterised by environmental factors that affect our mentality, which in turn, influence our mental and physical health.




Another word associated with health and wellbeing is ‘wellness’. Similarly to wellbeing, there are various definitions of wellness and what it entails. The National Wellness Institute defines it as a “conscious, self-directed and evolving process of achieving full potential.” Wellness, like wellbeing, is centered around mental health, but instead is focused on our individual journey to happiness. Although environmental factors such as light and sleep affect our wellness, they do not define it (unlike wellbeing), and instead, wellness is an active process, shaped by our behaviours and choices.


In light of this, wellbeing can be regarded as the environmental factors that influence our health and wellness, whereas wellness is an emotional and spiritual journey. Both wellness and wellbeing shape our overall health- a healthy mental state benefits our physiology.


What does this mean for designers?


With the distinctions in health, wellbeing, and wellness in mind, there are benefits in designers and architects understanding the differences and applying this knowledge to their practices. Knowing the factors that underpin our wellbeing are necessary when constructing spaces which benefit our psychology, e.g. incorporating timber into the home reduces rumination and depression. Consequently, designers have learned that it is these choices that aid our journey to wellness, which in turn, impacts our health and sense of happiness.


The knowledge of what makes our wellbeing and how design can implement it, drives education, government policy and how we care for our society. Consequently, the incorporation of wellbeing research into design paradigms: workspaces, classrooms, and hospitals, for example, benefits not only our wellbeing but our spiritual and mental journey to wellness; shaping and benefiting our overall health.


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