Making the Leap from Wellness to Well-being…

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Laura Beck
Learning & Development Guide for The Eden Alternative – PS Magazine

The following article was reprinted with permission from Issue #2 of PS Magazine, page 15 (

The older I get, the more I find myself thinking about what it means to “age well.”  By tuning into my own experience, I tap into nuances that I don’t really see reflected back in the world around me. I hear buzz about successful aging, positive aging, even active aging, and I am always intrigued by what these different phrases actually mean.  Digging more deeply, there seems to be a common thread in the current culture — we are aging well when we successfully maintain a certain level of physical and cognitive fitness over time.

Feeling healthy, fit, and sharp is, no doubt, a good thing.  I’ll certainly take it.  But is it enough?  For me, as I age, I hope for a deepening in how I experience life.  I seek a stronger sense of myself and how I show up in relationship to others.  I aspire to share my voice freely, to express my creativity, to share the wisdom I’ve gained through a life lived, and to never ever stop growing intellectually, relationally, emotionally, and spiritually.  I will know I am aging well, when I am encouraged to grow, no matter what challenges I face over time, either physically or cognitively.  When society affirms that I have value and purpose, no matter how old I am or where I live, I will know I am aging well. Successful aging, then, is as much about holding our culture accountable for its perceptions, as it is about holding ourselves accountable for our own health and wellness.

What I seek is a powerful sense of well-being.  Yet, the traditional models of care designed to support our health and wellness seem to struggle with this one.  Focused mostly on measuring the quality of physical care, they fail to capture the subtleties of what it means to be human and experience a rich quality of life that helps us thrive, not just survive.

This conundrum inspired The Eden Alternative to launch a grant-funded effort to explore well-being in more depth. Bringing together an interdisciplinary task force of experts and change agents, the initiative identified the seven primary Eden Alternative Domains of Well-Being™:

Identity, connectedness, security, autonomy, meaning, growth, and joy.
Task force findings included the observation that “wellness implies healthiness, which may peak and decline over time. Happiness, too, is a human emotion that comes and goes. In contrast, well-being evolves and develops over a lifetime, deepening as we grow into our full potential as human beings.”[1]

Building on this, Al Power, M.D., award-winning author of Dementia Beyond Drugs, shares, “If we only focus on physical and cognitive ability, there will come a time in our lives — using the cultural focus on youthfulness as the yardstick — where we don’t quite ‘make the grade.’  If we only have these goals, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment.  By exploring well-being, we create more opportunities to expand the range of our goals beyond physical health alone.”

When teaching others about the Domains of Well-Being, simple descriptors are applied that have meaning for everyone.  No matter what phase of life we are in, all seven Domains continue to be relevant to our experience.  Not a single Domain becomes less important to us over time, although the interplay between the seven can be framed any number of ways.

Here is one such example: IDENTITY is about personhood and being well-known to each other.  Knowing each other well makes it possible for relationships to grow and deepen (CONNECTEDNESS).  Feeling connected to others and our environment, we feel safe enough (SECURITY) to express ourselves and exercise our right to choose (AUTONOMY).  Our ability to clearly state our needs and direct the course of our existence helps us engage in daily life with a sense of MEANING and purpose.  By pursuing what’s meaningful to us, we build on our strengths and experience GROWTH. Working together, these six previous Domains create a sense of JOY and fulfillment in our lives.

As a paradigm shift, the Domains of Well-Being have had a powerful impact on how we care for each other.  The practice of person-directed care, which focuses on putting the individual first, reaches new heights when care partners use the Domains as a filter for problem-solving and thinking creatively about supporting the growth and well-being of others.  Suddenly, the basic ideas behind person-directed care become less abstract and more visceral, as the Domains invite us to reflect on what we each hold dear in our own lives.

Application of the Domains inspires care partners to ask thorough, sensitive questions that help them identify the unmet needs of others.  This is particularly valuable for those who are no longer able to advocate for themselves, due to changes in their physical and cognitive abilities.  Through the Domains, care partners feel more empowered to reveal the root of the issue, rather than only respond to the symptom.

Care is defined by The Eden Alternative as “helping another to grow.” If well-being implies the ability to grow into our greatest potential, then shouldn’t the pursuit of well-being exist at the core of what it means to provide genuine care – not only to others, but to ourselves?  Whoever we are and whatever our stories may be, making the leap from wellness to well-being is a profoundly personal journey.  As I grapple to achieve balance in my own busy life as a single working mom, the Domains of Well-Being have offered me a humbling wake-up call about my own habits and choices. As I grow and age, the context will undoubtedly shift, but the quest for well-being will remain, always holding the promise of a life worth living.

[1] “Revolutionizing the Experience of Home by Bringing Well-Being to Life.” The Eden Alternative, Rev. 2012