Back to Basics: What is Wellness, Anyways?

March 2024

There are so many ideas that we toss around when talking about wellness, but how often do we stop to think about what wellness (actually) is? Chances are, when you think of the word ‘wellness’ you have your own preconceived notion of what that is. Maybe it’s a hike in the woods. Or a bubble bath. Or a delicious salad. Or something different than you feel right now, but you can’t quite put your finger on what that is. But is it just one thing?

When working with individuals and groups, it’s not uncommon for people to stare blankly at me when I ask “what is wellness?”

The truth is the concept of wellness has been co-opted and misconstrued. And in our current society, many conceptualizations of wellness are soaked in power and privilege. Think: $20 cold pressed green juices, $150 athleticwear (read: yoga pants) and $350/month gym memberships. Many ideas of wellness are sold to us, with a price tag and a promise, often of idealized visions of what beauty and ‘health’ is. Is beauty wellness? Is thinness wellness? Are expensive gym clothes wellness? No. No. And, you guessed it, No.

If you’re drinking a cold-pressed green juice in an expensive athleisure suit while reading this, please don’t take offense. I’m not saying those are inherently bad things. But too often what we think about when it comes to wellness are things that are costly, time consuming and make us feel excluded if we’re not engaging in them. Or we think, “well I’m not sick, so I guess I’m well.”

In this series, I often talk about ways to achieve wellness, but if we’re not clear (really) about what we’re talking about when we say the word wellness then how can we achieve it?

As my friend and colleague, Wade Repta, writes in The Well Teacher book: Wellness = Balance. But balance of what? Our wellness is not one thing, but comprised of various factors that interact to influence our overall wellness. This can be depicted by the Wellness Wheel, such as the one in The Well Teacher book:

Ultimately finding a balance among these components is the key to wellness. Each person’s sense of balance will be contextual and dependent upon their individual needs, desires, wants and life circumstances. There is really no ‘right’ way to do wellness, but if you find the components of your wellness wheel out of balance, you’re more likely to feel unwell and off kilter. The good news is there are things withing each of these categories that we have control over, which don’t necessarily involve green juice.

The starting point is to get a sense of how balanced you might be. Princeton University offers a helpful breakdown of the components of wellness here:

and a helpful Wellness Self-Assessment on the

components of wellness can be completed here:

Take a look at where you’re at. Consider the opportunities to focus on one or two components of your wellness wheel with the goal of bringing things into better alignment. Do something small, actionable and achievable. Focus on that for a few weeks or a month and come back to your wellness wheel. Where are you at now? Do you need to shift your focus? Our balanced wellness requires ongoing self-reflection and re-calibration. Using the wellness wheel for this reflection can be a helpful and comprehensive way to consider our wellness through the year.

Consider your personal wellness wheel and what components might be out of balance – then make some small, actionable and attainable changes to move forward with rebalancing your wheel.

Please reach out to the BCPVPA EIP Program if you would like some support exploring your wellness wheel and creating an actionable plan!


With respect and admiration,

Darby Barnes

Rehabilitation Consultant
Humanworks Consulting Group

Darby is a registered clinical counsellor who describes her work calling as ‘caring for people who care for people’ and has worked supporting leaders and workers in complex human serving systems (health care and education) for over a decade. She specifically supports educators and education leaders and finds deep joy and honour in her work.

March 2024

The Humanworks EIP column appears in BCPVPA’s eNews the first Friday of each month.



Repta, W. & Repta, A. (2018). The Well Teacher: Everything teachers need to know to be well and stay well in the classroom. Humanworks Press.

Princeton University Wellness Wheel & Assessment

Sign up for Humanworks News

An occasional email that shares insights, thoughts, and recommendations about wellness to our internal network.