Some Theories About Wellbeing

In its 2016 report, the Canadian Index of Wellbeing adopted this definition:

“The presence of the highest possible quality of life in its full breadth of expression focused on but not necessarily exclusive to: good living standards, robust health, a sustainable environment, vital communities, an educated populace, balanced time use, high levels of democratic participation, and access to and participation in leisure and culture”.

(p. 11)

While this index is focused on the wellbeing of communities rather than the individual, we see that there are a number of interrelated dimensions that work together to create what we call ‘wellbeing’. It is an effort to move beyond economic definitions of ‘doing well’ to embrace a larger idea of success. While this definition is outside of the scope of our work here, it is a useful starting point.

It is encouraging to note the importance placed on participation in culture as one of the defining factors of wellbeing, acknowledging that “as forms of human expression, leisure and cultural activities help to more fully define our lives, the meaning we derive from them, and ultimately, our wellbeing. This remains true throughout our lives regardless of age, gender, or social group.” (p. 60).

The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”, while describing wellbeing as “a positive approach to living”. The National Wellness Institute adds that wellness is a “conscious, self-directed and evolving process of achieving full potential.

As we shift our focus to the individual, we begin to see that some versions of the dimensions listed above occur on a more individual scale in different configurations. In fact, depending on your source, you may discover anywhere from four to twelve or even more ‘dimensions’ or elements that positively or negatively impact an individual’s wellbeing. Some of these dimensions include emotional, physical, occupational, intellectual, financial, social, environmental, and spiritual elements, with the idea that each is interconnected.

Artful Moments - A participant looks at program materials with Laurie and Maureen to see what happens the following week.
A participant looks at program materials with Laurie and Maureen to see what happens the following week.

There are countless theories and definitions about wellbeing, from the highly scientific to the more exploratory, and some of the elements mentioned above are highlighted, regrouped, or emphasized in different measures. As we consider our own ideas about wellness, with a particular focus on both wellness in museum spaces, and wellbeing for people living with dementia, the following theories have been the most relevant to our recent work:

  • John Falk, Wellbeing in Museums
  • Martin Seligman, Positive Psychology
  • Five Ways to Wellbeing
  • Clarke et al, Measuring Wellbeing
Circular icon of a lightbulb.
AGH-Artful Moments

Take a moment to think about why you choose to visit a museum.

Think of a recent visit (ideally one that was not primarily work-related) What do/did you hope to get out of your visit? Try to think of several outcomes.