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Health and well-being: what links

Medicine struggles to make the link between health and well-being, leaving that to the general public. But if the virtue of the health/well-being association is to offer another vision of being in good health, than the very medical one of conventional medicine, the risks are to make health an unattainable horizon.

Broadening the representation of health

The initial work of Claudine Herzlich (holistic approach to health) shows that among the representations that the general public has of health, we find psychological well-being, good mood, physical well-being, but also the ability to do and pursue one’s goals without perceiving one’s limits. Such a link echoes the WHO definition of health. For some, this is a sign of a conception of life that makes frustration and suffering abnormal and makes health an unattainable goal. For others, this vision is certainly utopian, but it has the merit of taking health out of the realm of medicine and making it a vulgar concept, i.e. popular and non-scientific, that everyone can appropriate. The link between health and well-being is therefore not so simple, especially if well-being remains a vague notion.

What is well-being?

Some researchers consider that well-being is a reality that can be measured on the basis of objective indicators, such as life expectancy, income, unemployment rate, etc. Others consider, on the contrary, that well-being is a reality that can be measured on the basis of objective indicators. Indeed, in the same situation, one person may say he or she is happy while another is not. In order not to remain locked into this alternative, the WHO sought to understand how the association of health and well-being could be useful. Its answer is that it allows the subjective aspects of health to be taken into account, a dimension previously neglected by medicine. It is therefore the subjective part that interests the WHO, while recognising that objective factors are not without impact. Its definition of well-being therefore follows an intermediate path, indicating that it “has two dimensions, one objective and one subjective. It considers how an individual perceives his or her life and how his or her living conditions compare with prevailing social values and norms” (WHO 2012). 

Wellness-health link: avoiding the temptation of transience

The association between well-being and health also raises the question of meaning. For wellness has often been reduced to a consumer offer (drugs, shower gels, gyms, etc.) without opening up a broader meaning or real perspectives in the field of health. However, the WHO definition of well-being refers to the fulfilment of people, i.e. less to the satisfaction of their immediate desires than to their capacity to emancipate and empower themselves. This way of defining well-being anchors it in life horizons, such as health. Moreover, in 1991, Quebec’s Act respecting health services and social services added an interesting relational dimension to its definition of health and well-being, which at the time referred to “the physical, psychic and social capacity of a person to act in his or her environment and to carry out the roles he or she intends to assume, in a manner acceptable to himself or herself and to the groups of which he or she is a member. Thus, well-being can be linked to an ethical project, for oneself and in relation to others.