Wellness vs well-being – yes it does matter which one we use

Family dancing together

Today, everywhere we turn another business, industry sector, or products are staking claim to the term wellness. Wellness comes in a variety of shapes and forms and is interpreted in ways that appears to suit any business. The global wellness market has been booming for some time and in 2020, it was estimated to be worth more than $4.4 trillion, surpassing the diet industry.

With its popularity overload, wellness, once a seemingly innocent and valuable word, has become commercialized. A buzzword that is being exploited by companies, wellness is commonly used to boost their own reputation at the expense of those suffering from stress, anxiety, depression and so on. One could say that the word wellness has risen to such great heights in popularity that it is at the brink of losing its meaning and on its way to becoming a cliche.

On Instagram, there are more than 54 million posts containing the hashtag “#wellness.” Everyone wants to be part of the trendy wellness movement. However, what exactly is wellness and is it simply a marketing ploy to entice us to spend money in the name of health? Perhaps we would serve our industry better if we chose to focus on well-being.

As someone who works within the wellness space, I wonder if the term “wellness” is having an identity crisis. Moreover, I question why we are not referencing the term well-being when we talk about designing spaces that positively influence our health outcomes.

Family sitting together

Wellness vs well-being

I felt that this was a good time to open the conversation around the words “wellness” vs “well-being” and establish what they mean to our industry.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, wellness is “the state of being healthy, especially when you actively try to achieve this.” Whereas well-being is “the state of being or doing well in life; happy, healthy, or prosperous condition; moral or physical welfare (of a person or community).”

"The term 'wellness' has become a huge money-making, marketing category for retailers. It seems these days anything can be classified as wellness, and sold to consumers as a quick fix. Well-being on the other hand depends heavily on science and cannot achieve its purpose without drawing upon findings from nature and biophilia, human biology, environmental psychology, brain sciences and neuroaesthetics, to mention a few.

It is no longer an intuition that our physical environment significantly affects our physical and psychological well-being. In fact, for more than 30 years science has been studying the impact our environments have on our emotions and well-being. Professors and academia now have empirical evidence that support this claim. Dr. Claudia Miller of the University of Texas stands firmly behind her belief that “interior designers and architects have a greater impact on public health than medical professionals.” In 2018, the Quebec Medical Association embarked on a new initiative, whereas doctors could write prescriptions for patients to visit art galleries, museums and design centres instead of prescribing pills.

Woman sitting on the couch


During the industrial revolution, we started spending more time indoors, detached from nature. Fast forward to today, we find ourselves spending 90 per cent of our time indoors or in vehicles. As a result, we are seeing the profound negative impact this is having on our health. Despite our attempts to improve indoor environment quality, we cannot ignore the positive impact nature, beauty and fine design offers.

Human well-being is rooted in nature and beauty. Being in nature or even just viewing scenes of nature reduces anger, fear and stress and increases pleasant feelings. This is an increase in the parasympathetic activity for positive emotions. Exposure to nature and beauty not only makes you feel better emotionally, it contributes to your physical well-being, reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension and the production of stress hormones.

"We will never be truly healthy, satisfied or fulfilled if we live apart and alienated from the environment from which we evolved" – Steven Keller, Professor of Social Ecology at Yale University and pioneer of the Theory of Biophilia.

In addition, humans need an emotionally healthy environment to thrive. This is what interior design professional and architects offer. Ideal spaces that support well-being and allow humans to flourish are a result of designs that include beauty and nature.

Companies such as Amazon, Apple, Etsy and Facebook have figured this out by designing healthier work environments to support employee well-being. In turn, these spaces increase creativity, productivity and reduces absenteeism. Unfortunately, the residential sector has not caught up to the commercial sector. We still focus on trends, color of year, and not the critical aspects that improve well-being for our clients.

So, the next time you promote your firm and design services, think about the impact you have on your client’s well-being and stay clear of using cliches such as wellness. In addition, when your client pulls out their red pen to mark up your designs, tell them that they are in fact affecting their own well-being.

Linda Kafka
Linda Kafka
Linda Kafka, along with Mike Peterson, are co-founders of the Science in Design Summit, committed to educating the design and architecture industries on the physical and emotional health benefits of beauty, nature and fine design. scienceindesignsummit.com
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