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Why We Use the Term "Well-Being" Rather Than "Wellness"

colorful circles arranged in a circle pattern representing the seven dimensions of well-being
The Seven Dimensions of Well-Being

In the autumn of 2017, I was introduced to the idea of "well-being" when the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being published The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change. At the time, I was at a professional crossroads in my own legal practice, and our family had been living with my dad's pancreatic cancer for about a year. I remember reading through the report and feeling simultaneously relieved that I wasn't the only lawyer feeling yucky and also even more yucky that there were a bunch of other lawyers who also felt yucky. Yucky x Yucky, if you will.


The report made the distinction between "wellness" and "well-being" by noting that "wellness" is generally a term used for mental and physical health (or lack of health), while "well-being" is a continuous process of seeking to thrive in the six dimensions of life. After spending a few years working with different models of the dimensions of well-being, we at Thought Kitchen have settled on seven dimensions, including Environmental, which isn't included in the model used in the lawyer, law student, and judicial officer well-being movement, now coordinated by The Institute for Well-Being in Law.


Please understand: I do not believe there's anything wrong with the term "wellness" or attending to physical and mental wellness, but the term "well-being" is broader and more inclusive. Two of the Seven Dimensions of Well-Being are Physical and Emotional, which means that physical and mental wellness are included in the more expansive well-being model. It is also the natural evolution of the wellness movement that started about two decades ago in the legal profession, which, at the time, focused mostly on getting lawyers to quit smoking and engage in physical exercise.


When you hear Lesley, Loretta, Megan, or me use the term "well-being" rather than "wellness," we are doing so intentionally.


Of course, well-being is for EVERYONE, not just for people in the legal profession, but the legal profession is where we've started because we're lawyers, and there's good data to drive the discussion. Over the past year, we've been introducing our operationalization of the Seven Dimensions of Well-Being throughout the legal community in Indiana. In the one-hour introductory session, we ask What's on Your Well-Being Menu? and get curious about what each of the Seven Dimensions of Well-Being looks like for each person, what gets in the way, and what support looks like. At the end of our time together, each person has the basics they need to check in on each dimension, plan their menu, and then work the plan. We also offered asynchronous ideas for engaging with each of the dimensions through posters and QR codes in the Well-Being Room, Sponsored by Thought Kitchen, at last year's Indiana State Bar Association Solo & Small Firm Conference.


The well-being room at the 2023 Indiana State Bar Association Solo & Small Firm Conference, set up for the sound bath, with posters about the Seven Dimensions of Well-Being on the outside walls
Posters in the Well-Being Room at the June 2023 ISBA Solo & Small Firm Conference introduced the Seven Dimensions of Well-Being and offered activities to support well-being for each dimension.


Jill and Loretta being introduced by Helen at October 2023's What's on Your Well-Being Menu? cotinuing judicial education program
Loretta and I were invited by our friend, Honorable Helen Marchal, to introduce the Seven Dimensions of Well-Being to the Marion County judiciary in October 2023.

During 2024, we will continue to offer programming to support well-being in each of the Seven Dimensions, both for those within the legal profession and those outside of it. This month, we'll introduce this topic to the Survivor Advocacy team at Firefly, and Loretta and I will be freely offering a 1-hour ethics continuing legal education (CLE) program on January 31. Later in the year, we'll be introducing other coaching and programming to support everyone, no matter where you are on your well-being journey.


Let's make 2024 the year that we collectively attend to our well-being!




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