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I'm Not Going to Talk About Happiness...

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Measuring Happiness is often discussed in the media. The theme never really varies. Is this happiness? Can we define happiness? Does this work for everybody? It's all so...unsatisfactory. People get bogged down in definitions, lose the big picture. So, allow me to turn away from happiness for the time being and look at the broader concept of wellbeing.

I'm not a fan of the term 'wellbeing'. It smacks of health spas and therapy sessions. While I've nothing against those 'lifestyle' aspects, I want to get to the difficult heart of the matter of 'wellness'. When it comes to 'wellness', I think it's as important to address loneliness and dementia, as it is obesity and cosmetic surgery.

When you've worked on as many aspects of wellness and with as many different organisations as we have over the last 16 years, it's perhaps difficult to trace the single cohesive thread running through it all, the ultimate purpose. After all, wellness is such a huge subject. I see wellness as a feeling of being mentally and physically at one with yourself and the world. It is changeable, week by week, day by day, hour by hour. But, as a practical subject of public health education campaigns, wellness is far more effective than happiness.

Wellness covers a myriad of issues everything from public health and protecting the environment to advancing social equality. Today, as the links between mental, physical health, cohesive communities and contact with the natural world are better understood, wellness is moving in exciting new directions and we are starting to see communications campaigns moving with it.

Vulnerable people - including the marginalised from ethnic communities and the prison population will be better served with treatment and services if our wider society has a better understanding of the fundamentals of wellness. Even if three out of four people in our society never have mental ill health in their lifetimes, they are still familiar with the rudiments of personal wellness. What, when and how they eat, their alcohol consumption, their sleeping and exercise habits, what they see when they look in the mirror in the morning, and how they feel about their appearance.

Presenting mental health as a growing and threatening problem will continue to be side stepped by a wide variety of organisations, that need to engage with this issue but still don't accept that it's relevant to their staff, their customers, their stakeholders and their organisations. To overcome this commercial organisations and charities need to be encouraged to focus on the bigger picture - how physical and mental health work together. It's all connected.

Take Loneliness, for example. Understanding the importance of tackling loneliness and the impact on society is comparable to that of smoking and obesity. Ultimately, it's a mental health issue. However, in order to understand what lies behind it, surely we have to examine the physical aspects of a person's wellness.

Little understood, loneliness is often associated with old age, but can affect people at all life stages. What is contributing to a person's loneliness? Are they looking after themselves? Eating healthy food? Getting enough sleep? Maybe they're getting no exercise and feeling very negatively about themselves. If loneliness is a self-esteem issue, the causes are bound up in both physical and mental wellness. A vicious circle. Our task is to break that circle.

There is so much work to be done here, from tackling stigma, to encouraging people to look after themselves better. As well as encouraging people to speak up and get help, assisting society to understand loneliness, depression and isolation.

We know that organisations that mobilise their staff, customers and service users on wellness issues will unlock new reserves of energy, talent and capability. With a nudge in the right direction and the right support from suppliers and partners, both commercial and not for profit organistions will feel the benefits of engaging with the subject of wellbeing, in its fullest, truest sense.