The eight dimensions of wellness

14 November 2019

What is wellness?

The word “wellness” was first recognised by the Oxford English Dictionary in the 1650s. The term did not gain popularity, however, until the 1950s when Halbert L Dunn, chief of the National Office of Vital Statistics, described wellness as “a condition of change in which the individual moves forward, climbing toward a higher potential of functioning.”[1,2]

Margaret Swarbrick, adjunct associate professor and Director of Practice Innovation and Wellness at Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care, puts it well by defining wellness as a “conscious, deliberate process that requires being aware of and making choices for a more satisfying lifestyle.”[2] Swarbrick says we can think of wellness as being healthy in eight dimensions of our lives.[3]

Eight dimensions of wellness

The eight dimensions of wellness are as follows:[3]


  • Maintenance of a healthy body
  • Good nutrition
  • Adequate exercise and sleep
  • Healthy habits and routines
  • Obtaining appropriate healthcare


  • Lifelong learning
  • Application of knowledge learned
  • Pursuit of personal interests
  • Recognising creative abilities
  • Sharing knowledge


  • Being and feeling physically safe
  • Occupying safe and clean surroundings
  • Access to clean air, food and water


  • Having meaning and purpose
  • Developing a sense of balance and peace
  • Exploring, respecting and incorporating personal values and beliefs
  • Connecting with cultural, religious or spiritual traditions


  • Having relationships with friends, family and the community
  • Having an interest and concern for the needs of others and humankind
  • Developing a sense of connection


  • Capacity to recognise feelings
  • Ability to express feelings
  • Ability to enjoy life
  • Ability to take on challenges and to assess own strengths, limitations and areas to develop further
  • Developing skills and strategies to cope with stress


  • Ability to have financial resources to meet practical needs
  • Having a sense of control and knowledge of personal finances


  • Participating in work or volunteering activities that provide meaning, purpose, pleasure and satisfaction
  • Sense of self-efficacy

How these dimensions interrelate

It is important to understand how each of the dimensions interrelate.

If, for example, we are eating foods that are causing inflammation in our body, this may manifest as aches and pains or other illness (physical), or it may manifest as depression or anxiety (emotional). Doctors visits and time off work due to illness may add a financial burden. Not feeling well enough to catch up with friends can make us feel isolated (social).

Another example might be that we are laid off work (occupational). This can cause us to worry about money (emotional and financial). It can also cause us to question our creative abilities (intellectual). In addition, no longer being part of a team can make us feel we have lost a sense of connection (social). Through lack of money, we may not be able to afford to eat well or seek appropriate health care (physical). It may even force us to move to a cheaper area that may feel less safe (environmental). Being without work can also cause us to question our own sense of meaning and purpose (spiritual).

Understanding how to maintain and optimise each of the eight dimensions of wellness, as well as understanding how they interrelate, is key when striving to live a healthful and empowered life.

Are you taking care of all eight dimensions of wellness?



  1. Zimmer B. Wellness. The New York Times Magazine. 2010 Apr 16.
  2. Swarbrick M. A wellness approach. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal. 2006;29:311–314.
  3. Swarbrick M. A wellness approach to mental health recovery. In: Recovery of People with Mental Illness: philosophical and related perspectives. Abraham Rudnick (ed). Oxford Press; 2012.
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About Tira

About Tira

Tira Cole is a nutritionist, researcher and educator. Her passion is meat-based nutrition and support of farming.

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