Dr. Claudius van Wyk is an international trainer and practitioner in the theory and practice of holistic wellbeing. In this guest post, Claudius describes a model of wellbeing that he has found useful – the seven pillars of wellbeing – and shares how this model informs his current work in the field of wellbeing.

Although Claudius now spends much of his time in South Africa, he occasionally teaches courses in Devon – the next one being in Totnes on Saturday March 19th on the topic of Living Systems Leadership. He will also be giving a talk on his holistic wellbeing programme at Dartington later this year – look out for further information on the NOW website. 

By Dr. Claudius van Wyk

The notion that wellbeing is the preserve of the favoured few is no longer acceptable in the 21st century. The idea that all people are entitled to pursue the ‘good life’ is enshrined in many documents including the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Yet in our work in this field we find we find a distorted view of what wellbeing really means. Medically it is often still seen as the absence of physical disease. Perversely, from a psychological perspective that is based on a materialist view, it is often seen as having access to abundant resources.  Why then do we find many who have access to abundant resources, still being so stressed, unhappy and actually physically unwell?

We wonder if it is because people have a distorted view of what the human person really is, and consequently of what real human needs are.

I believe that the Riverside University’s model of wellbeing provides a useful basis to think about this subject. It’s called “The Seven Pillars” though I prefer to think of it rather as the seven dimensions of human experience. I outline them below in no particular order. It’s important, from the holistic perspective, to realise that the pillars do not stand independently of each other but rather powerfully impact each other.

1. Physical: This is the ability to maintain a healthy life that allows us to get through our daily activities without undue fatigue or physical stress. Recognising that our behaviours have a significant impact on our physical health and adopting healthy habits (routine check-ups, a balanced diet, exercise, etc.) while avoiding destructive ones (tobacco, drugs, alcohol, etc.) will help preserve physical wellbeing.

2. Emotional: This is the ability to understand ourselves with greater self-awareness, and thereby better cope with the challenges that life can bring. The ability to acknowledge and share feelings of anger, fear, sadness or stress; hope, love, joy and happiness in a productive manner contributes significantly to our emotional wellbeing.

3. Social: This is the ability to relate meaningfully to, and connect deeply with other people. It includes our ability to establish and maintain positive relationships with family, friends and co-workers. Relationships contribute significantly to our social wellbeing.

4. Occupational: This is the ability to find meaningful work and some personal fulfilment from our jobs or our chosen career fields, while still maintaining balance in our lives. Our desire to contribute through our careers, to make a positive impact on the organisations we work in and to society as a whole, leads to a sense of meaningful work.

5. Environmental: This is the ability to recognise and respond to our own responsibility for the quality of the air, the water and the land that surrounds us – the ability to make a positive impact on the quality of our environment, be it our homes, our communities, or our planet.

6. Intellectual: This is the ability to open our minds to new ideas and experiences. The desire to learn new concepts, improve skills, and seek challenges in pursuit of lifelong learning contributes to our intellectual wellbeing.

7. Spiritual: This is a deep subject and relates to the ability to establish peace and harmony in our lives. It calls for the ability to develop greater congruency between our values and actions. Ultimately spiritual wellbeing invites the realisation of the common purpose that binds humanity and creation together.

A case can be made that the modernist, materialist scientific perspective has significantly contributed to a view of the human being as some sort of machine. This fragmented scientific perspective has offered many material benefits – and indeed has helped millions of people to live longer lives. However we must also accept that this perspective has contributed to the materialism of Western (and now Global) civilisation. This perpetuates the very conditions that impede achievement of the seven dimensions of wellbeing.

The cultural, economic and social context in which different communities live determines the extent to which members of these communities thrive or otherwise. So for a truly holistic view, we have to go beyond measures focused on the individual and look to the organisation, to the economy and to society as a whole. Implicit in wellbeing is a ‘political’ perspective that enables us to seek positive change in society to achieve wellbeing for all.

– – –

Thank you to Claudius for sharing this guest post with us. What do you think? Do you find “The Seven Pillars” a helpful model of wellbeing? What other models of wellbeing do you use? Share your views in the comments below!

To find out more about Claudius’ work you can visit: http://transformationstrategies.org