Are wellness, wellbeing, and happiness synonyms?

This is a question which is being asked very frequently. Myself, I was also confused for some time, before starting my journey across the wellness industry, wellbeing, and the science of happiness, and seeking to understand what really the difference was. Today, after having been indulged in these subjects for quite a while now and having gained some knowledge from major global leaders, I thought it was a great opportunity to explain the distinction among these three words.

It is commonly known that how we understand things depends on how we defined them. One can have his/her own definition of happiness or unique way of defining his/her own wellbeing. Nevertheless, there is a need to find a common ground in order to, most importantly, gain awareness of these three interconnected terms and become conscious of what stands behind them. It is also meaningful for experiencing change and growth. As indeed, wellness, wellbeing, and happiness are related, however are not the same.

When it comes to wellness and wellbeing, which are often mistakenly used as synonyms, there is a slight difference between them and it is important to understand it correctly. The best distinction between these two words is seeing wellness as actions and wellbeing as a result or goal. Wellness is a pathway towards a state of wellbeing. It is the little daily action steps which one takes in direction of attaining a sense of wellbeing. The set of actions differs from a person to person, depending on the goal and personal preferences (as not one size fits it all), whether it is meditation, mindfulness, movement, nutrition, finding meaning and purpose, connectedness to nature, or other interventions and techniques. To put it in simple terms, wellness provides the tools to enhance wellbeing through different paths.

The Global Wellness Institute defines wellness as “the active pursuit of activities, choices and lifestyles that lead to a state of holistic health”. And indeed, it is of a great importance to remember that wellness is not static. It is an active process, a positive approach which aims at achieving one’s full potential by becoming aware of and making choices towards one’s wellbeing. It is a dynamic process of change and growth. It is multidimensional and wholistic as wellbeing is.

To explain it further, I would like to use the “SPIRE” model which was co-created by my amazing teacher of the science of happiness – Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, the Founder of Happiness Studies Academy in New York. The “SPIRE model” is an integration of five integral dimensions, in which: S stands for spiritual wellbeing, P for physical wellbeing, I for intellectual wellbeing, R for relational wellbeing, and E stands for emotional wellbeing. All of these components relate to both – wellness and wellbeing. Just to remember, wellness is perceived as actions taken and wellbeing as a goal. We are aiming at achieving a state characterized by health and happiness.

What is happiness? As mentioned before, everyone may define it in one’s own way, but it surely is the highest on the hierarchy of goals of all human beings. As the Dalai Lama claims: “The very purpose of our life is happiness, the very motion of our life is toward happiness”.

There is a common misconception about happiness that it is about being constantly funny, joyful, and positive. Nothing more misleading than that, as it is a very limited perception of happiness. Happiness is not a constant state. One cannot experience solely pleasurable (positive, joyful) emotions all the time. The journey towards happiness can be illustrated as a continuum and one should strive for becoming happIER and move up along the spectrum towards a happy life. Happiness can be also explored through the lens of wholeperson wellbeing (wholebeing) – the exact five pillars related to wellness and wellbeing: Spiritual, Physical, Intellectual, Relational, and Emotional.

When we focus on these elements, we more likely become happier. Also, it is important to mention that everything is connected. Focusing on one aspect affects all. Small changes of any of the paths can make a big difference. If we shift a needle in one area of wellbeing, we influence other areas. Happiness should be pursued indirectly (by focusing on the five pillars). Upon this foundation (the “SPIRE” model) we can lay the building blocks for a healthier and happier life. As in the end “What is human life’s chief concern?” “It is happiness” – claims William James, the “Father of American psychology”.

To end with the answer to the question posed in the title: wellness, wellbeing, and happiness even though closely connected, are not synonyms.


Emilia Florek-Guerrero

Founder of HERÍA

known as emilyinwellness

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