The Planet Pluto, the Human Body, the NWI and Understanding the REAL Dimensions of Wellness

Introduction

The initial title of this essay was, What Is the Relevance of the Planet Pluto, Carl Linnaeus, the Human Body, and the National Wellness Institute (NWI) Six Dimension Wellness Model for the Fate of the Wellness Movement? I was prepared to address this riveting question that puzzled no one on which I believe the movement hovers between eventual ruin and immediate acclaim.

My editor, however, would have none of it. Thus, the shorter title.

Pluto, the Human Body and NWI’s Six Dimensions

Pluto was recognized as the outermost planet in our solar system for a century before the International Astronomical Union (IAU) demoted it a few years ago. Astronomers decided Pluto does not dominate the neighborhood around its orbit, one of the three criteria that must be met for a planet to be considered as such. Now it’s officially a dwarf planet.

Bye bye planet Pluto.

The human body has three main parts (head, trunk and limbs), 12 systems (cardiovascular, digestive, endocrine, immune, integumentary, lymphatic, muscular, nervous, reproductive, respiratory, skeletal and urinary) and 78 organs. (I’m not going to list the latter – it would consume too much space and besides, this is a family wellness report.)

It may be that the human body has other parts, yet to be discovered. We should keep an open mind. Who knew Pluto would get the kibosh, in time, back in the day when Percival Lowell was acclaimed for spotting this icy dwarf rock in 1905. There it was, way the hell out there, perhaps struggling mightily to dominate the neighborhood of its orbit. Yet, a revision of the planet’s status did occur. New discoveries are always been made; the human body might be next. Why should we think that all 12 systems and 78 organs are all we’ve got? Maybe there’s another part of us that has been overlooked, besides the head, trunk and limbs.

Once again, we are reminded: Keep an open mind.

Which brings me to the six dimension model of the NWI.

Criteria for Dimensions of Wellness

A dimension of wellness should identify and illuminate the broad elements, principles or requirements of a consistent philosophy or concept of living (i.e., lifestyle).

A dimension of wellness should draw a picture of what is entailed by this unique positive mindset that promotes wellbeing.

Used as a noun, a dimension in the English language refers to the property of a thing, as in the concept of wellness as a philosophy or lifestyle having x number of characteristics. The generalization of this property as having dimensions would apply to elements that it entails, such as exercise, nutrition or management of stress or emotions. Used as a verb with an object, a dimension can shape an idea or mode of functioning to fit and contain the elements pursuing specific outcomes, such as high levels of physical and mental wellbeing.

The six dimensions that NWI claims as expressive dimensions of the wellness concept do not serve such purposes. They are not dimensions. They are generic terms for sectors of life. I refer to the misnamed sectors NWI calls occupational and intellectual dimensions of wellness.

The other four (physical, social, intellectual and spiritual), as employed by NWI, also lack descriptive elements distinguishing wellness mindsets from the norm of just slogging along in these four areas. The NWI provides no standards or descriptive language that associates lifestyle behaviors or levels of functioning that enable optimal functioning in any of the separate categories (i.e., faux dimensions).

The NWI model has been widely adopted by institutions, organizations and practitioners who employ the term wellness. Some have added two other categories as dimensions – environmental and financial. These have the same deficiencies noted above in the NWI model. Sometimes, gobbledegook is tossed into the mix, as in the NWI declaration that the six dimensions derive their resources and services from this model. (No, I don’t know what that means.)

The value of any model depends upon how wellness is defined. NWI goes with this: Wellness is an active process through which people become aware of, and make choices toward, a more successful existence.

Even someone with a dreadful lifestyle could claim wellness as the active process by which he/she has created a successful existence. Nothing in this definition or the six/eight model of the concept addresses the nature of a successful existence. Lots of overweight, sedentary, stressed out people with dreadful addictions think they have a successful existence, especially if they’re rich and powerful enough to lord it over others. Absent clear standards of a wellness lifestyle, people can delude themselves into thinking their choices are healthful and optimal. Yet, few observers would consider them healthy, or thriving in any positive sense of the word.

One way I’ve been unsuccessful (besides not amassing riches or having anyone I can (or want to) lord it over is in having failed to get out ahead of the pack with an easily understood explanation of wellness and, perhaps, the suggested nature of a successful existence. Of course, I offered definitions of wellness and success in High Level Wellness: An Alternative to Doctors, Drugs and Disease in 1977 and other books since, as well as speeches, newsletters and so on, but evidently I didn’t nail it sufficiently for the majority who adopted the NWI list of six dimensions.

Maybe this wasn’t possible — I’m not sure.

However, the fact that the NWI model of sector dimensions is still out there doesn’t mean I and others interested in promoting wellbeing should not promote clearer, more functional frameworks.

It’s time for all good men and women to come to the aide of the wellness concept. It’s time to challenge an archaic, dysfunctional 1980-era model. There are many possibilities for dimensions of wellness that could inform the ingredients contained within the wellness concept. Try to remember that wellness is not a product, nor is it a service. It’s a positive lifestyle that can be abetted by products or services, but wellness is always a process of functioning that individuals shape, control and manage for themselves. Each person must be the sovereign of his or her own wellbeing.

REAL wellness is a philosophy, a mindset, a set of ideas and principles consistent with embracing life in a positive manner. This is not complicated.

REAL wellness should encourage and guide people to think and function rationally, to live exuberantly, to maintain physical fitness, to dine wisely consistent with factual nutritional knowledge and to live as freely as possible. The latter means becoming liberated from cultural or circumstantial elements such as superstitions, irrational dogmas and other mental and social limitations that add constraints on personal liberties.

The four dimensions of REAL wellness are reason, exuberance, athleticism (exercise and nutrition) and liberty. Thus, the acronym R-E-A-L.

A rendition of a continuum for each dimensions illustrates the characteristics of each of the four dimensions, and the characteristics that obtain when these qualities are totally absent. (If interested, please send a request to the author and an attachment containing this morel will be electronically sent to you.)

Not to Overlook Carl Linnaeus

You might recall that Carl Linnaeus was initially included in the original long–form title of this essay, positioned between Pluto and the human body. However, due to the wordy nature of that preliminary title for this essay, the polymath Swedish botanist, zoologist and physician, the father of modern taxonomy, was cruelly edited out by my lovely editor (AKA my wife Carol).

Nevertheless, I’ll end this by giving the Great Man his due. Long long ago, way back in the 18th century, Linnaeus published a system for classifying living things. He commenced this historic undertaking by introducing just two classes of things, which he called kingdoms. The two classes were animals and plants. If he lived today, he probably would have called his classification the Dimensions of Living Things.

I do not believe he would be offended or surprised to discover that, in the modern world, there are eight levels of hierarchical classification — Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus and Species. Instead, he would probably delight and take pride in the evolution of knowledge which he inspired.

And so it is, I hope, with NWI and others who started out with good intentions and sparked new models over time. At least, I hope that will be the case.

Bonne chance, everyone.

Postscript

Experts on wellness models were asked to comment on this essay. Their remarks follow.

Bill Hettler, Minneapolis, MN

Just as in any healthy living ecology, diversity is a positive.

I am OK with your reductionistic four dimensions. But, as you know, I have always been a Y guy and thus am also OK with the YMCA’s Body, Mind and Spirit.

And, I always remember our friend and colleague Robert F. Allen who reminded us that the best wellness model is the one you actually use.

The six dimensions, which I originally wrote, were based on the written materials of many. I was mainly focusing on how people allocated their time. My selection of six dimensions (as an optimal number) was heavily influenced by my desire to have an easy way to show these dimensions in a two-dimensional drawing. You might remember that damn Ardell guy had five dimensions at one point, and I could not for the life of me easily draw pentagons. I actually played around with a three-dimensional model (I am talking drawing type here, not a mere three wellness dimensions) that was an equilateral tetrahedron.

As you recall, my original social dimension included environmental issues. Each dimension is easily expanded or contracted as best suits the purpose of the users.

Each dimension was focused on how much time people spent on activities related to that particular topic. I had an unproven bias that the more balanced one was in the allocation of their time (and therefore their life), the more likely their chances for a long and enjoyable existence.

From a programming standpoint, as pointed out by Rod Lees (below), we noticed that we might be able to interest people in activities in one area more easily than another. By intention, we also tried to promote cross referrals from one area of participation to another.

Be well Don — and keep up the good work of making people think. (That could be part of the Intellectual dimension, if one believed in that sort of thing.)

John Travis, Novato, CA

Yeah, I agree – -they ain’t really dimensions, but categories. And there’s no real philosophy. However, I can’t get very excited about it because the very word wellness has been too dumbed down, with little hope of reversing it. I admire your diligence to keep hammering away at it tho.

Your pessimistic curmudgeon friend.

Rod Lees, Noosa, Australia

I remember hearing a discussion from the academics at university here in Queensland about the differences between wellbeing and wellness. Someone even wrote an academic paper on the topic. I told them that I didn’t care what they called it. It was all about the thought process, the application and the doing.

In my presentation days, I would talk about REAL wellness and also teach the 6-8 dimensions. I did find that for those who were wanting to develop programs for staff, the multiple dimensions seemed to fit well. They could plan activities around each dimension.

So, in the end, I don’t have an opinion as to which is better. Both have value and I think that both should be used and individuals can pick up on the one that speaks to them the most. Or, as I’m guessing you might say, use REAL wellness dimensions when addressing personal lifestyles, and the NWI-like sector models for corporate or other programming.

Derek Bell, Stevens Point, WI

Ha! Love it. I think it’s a good time to assess the value of traditional wellness models. I respect those who have moved away from models like NWI’s, as well as dated pie charts which suggest equal dimensions wherein balance is the key.

I like the position you’ve taken. We need to frame wellness more by human needs and values-based thinking, less by seeking a perfect balance. Your continuum for lifestyle dimensions makes much more sense to me. Keep up the good work! The establishment needs some rattling.

Judd Allen, Burlington, VT

Thank you for sharing your concern that wellness is frequently used without adequate definition. I agree that a good definition would recognize that personal wellness requires optimizing the benefits of a multi-dimensional life.

You have your list of four dimensions and the National Wellness Institute has adopted Bill Hettler’s six dimensions. The YMCA goes with mind, body and spirit. We all define dimensions of wellness in accord with our visions, language and settings. Wellness is a full-potentials movement with multi-dimensional life perspectives. All the models recognize that a healthy, satisfying lifestyle requires so much more than fitness, such as traits of mental wellbeing, the presence of good works and time spent with good friends. Wellness is only possible when we have many such great resources in abundance.