The Promise of Wellness

National Wellness Conference 2010 - Dance Night: an important part of building community!

Returning from my annual pilgrimage to the National Wellness Conference I’m once again filled with perspective on this effort we are all making to help this world be more well. This was the 35th annual conference and I’ve migrated there for thirty or more of them, as have quite a few of my dear colleagues who I got to see this last week. What brings the new people there each year and what keeps many of us coming back? Since 1979 I’ve been going to the UWSP campus in Central Wisconsin to learn and to share, to connect, to nourish and to be nourished. The conference never fails to deliver in one way or another time and time again. (

I’ve gone from arriving as an empty cup looking to be filled to being a mentor and a laser beam focused on exacting questions, like how can we truly help people succeed at lasting lifestyle change. My needs have evolved and yet many are still the same: community, connectedness and a renewal of faith in what we are doing to literally help the world

The reality is that the wild-child prodigal son of the health field has grown into the last best chance for the healthcare crisis to be resolved. In the wellness movement’s early days people said all our efforts would fade away when the “jogging craze” was over. When HR budgets were cut wellness was the first thing to go. “You’re just helping well people be well-er!” was the accusation of ridicule. Now, with the cost of healthcare crippling companies more than any other factor, real solutions are being looked for and the outstanding, and documented ROI of wellness programs is what is being sought out.

Our field needs to act now! We need leadership that comes from an egalitarian position, not just self-serving interests. Leadership is needed that lets the world know that band-aid solutions and cosmetic or token wellness programs are not going to get the job done. We also need to groom people who are in their twenties, thirties, and even forties to pick up the baton that we grey-hairs are passing down.

We need the public to know that helping people succeed at lifestyle improvement is not the sole province of any profession, be it nursing, health education, dietetics, or wellness and health coaching. When you look at all the different ways that professionals are taking the field forward you can see that there is plenty of room in this house. Oh, I’m the first one to bar the door to charlatans, people selling holistic snake oil and wellness coaching study-at-home-kits. We do have highly qualified professionals in the fields of health promotion, wellness coaching, disease management, prevention, lifestyle medicine, and more. The time for sharing awareness of that professionalism with the public is here. It is imperative that we do a good job of letting the world know what wellness really is, what it’s promise is, what value living a wellness lifestyle holds. If we fail to do so those holistic snake-oil salesmen and women will do it for us.

So let me ask…What is the promise of wellness? As a professional field, what do we hold out to the world and say, “With our help, our expertise, we can help you to…” and the rest of that sentence will be just what people are looking for. The rest of that sentence has got to be something more than “lose weight”, “look younger”, “be happy” or any other overly-simplistic promise that sounds like a cheap sales pitch. It’s got to ring true. It’s got to land someplace inside people that fills a gap, slakes a thirst, and meets a need.

I invite your comments, your ideas, and your creativity. What is the promise of wellness? And, the caveat…how do we deliver it?

See also the Aug. 11, 2010 post on Change:

The UWSP Mural always inspires!