What does being healthy mean to you?


Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. ~World Health Organization, 1948

Words are important. They influence our thinking greatly, and therefore our behavior. I recently ran across this decades-old definition of health. It made an impression.

How do you characterize health? As “something is wrong” or as “something is right”? As something you move toward or away from?

As an experiment in the power of words, let’s take apart the statement above.

First, say to yourself, “Health is the absence of disease or infirmity.” What does that mean to you? How does it resonate?

To me, it means that as long as I don’t have a disease (that is, anything “wrong” with me, like cancer, chicken pox, an infection) or an infirmity (like being feeble or frail), then I am healthy.

Notice that the statement focuses on physical health. So as long as I avoid getting sick or infirm, I am healthy.

(You may also realize how much of the “health care system” is set up using this model. You go to the doctor to find out what’s wrong with you.)

Now say to yourself, “Health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being.” Think about what that means to you.

What would it be like to have complete physical well-being? I imagine waking up each day completely refreshed from a good night’s sleep, feeling able-bodied, with a robust immune system working for me, and having stamina to spare as I go about my daily life. I imagine feeling vibrant, full of vitality, glowing with health.

I imagine eating healthily, getting regular massages, and exercising to maintain and improve my physical well-being.

How about complete mental well-being? What would that be like? Well, I think I would feel good about myself and others most of the time. I would acknowledge disappointments and disturbances, feel the pain, and let go of it, learning whatever I can from the experience.

I would sort whether information coming my way was true or useful, so I wouldn’t be a sucker for the latest buzz in my ears.

I would use both hemispheres of my brain, employing reason and intuition as needed.

I would make it a habit to develop my mental capabilities. Lifelong learning keeps your mind healthy.

Now, what about complete social well-being? What does that look/sound/feel like to you?

In my opinion, it would mean being centered in my own being, having good boundaries with others, and not needing drama in my relationships.

It would mean being open to others while trusting my own inner radar about what is true and good.

It would mean forgiving others but not being a doormat, allowing myself and others to be vulnerable, being trustworthy with good judgment about others’ trustworthiness, being accountable and expecting others to be accountable as well.

It would mean learning and growing from all my relationships.

I like the well-being definition (of course I do, look at the name of my blog!). It has a direction of “moving toward” rather than “avoiding,” which the absence definition does.

The well-being definition brings up a companion question:

How can I be healthier, physically, mentally, and socially?

And it’s that question that is constantly with me. Yes, of course, sometimes I rest, and sometimes I fall asleep, yet the inquiring has become a habit.

Need help finding source of quote that 90% of disease is stress-related

Note: I first published this post in 2011. Be sure to read Tom Beckman’s comments and click the link if you’re looking for the source of the quote. Thanks so much to Tom, who is the associate director of the Health Professionals Program at the HeartMath Institute, a great program for stress reduction, for this persevering research!

Note: It’s November 2022, and I want to add something about how stress and disease are related. Our autonomic nervous systems react to threats (severe, mild, and even imagined threats) by preparing us to take action (to run, fight, hide).

When this happens, our heart rate increases, pupils dilate, lungs take in more air, digestion slows, cortisol and epinephrine/norepinephrine are released.

In other words, stress prevents our systems from resting, repairing, restoring, regulating, and digesting — the functions that keep us healthy.


I’ve heard this statistic for several years. I’ve seen various forms of it in print, too, often attributed to the Centers for Disease Control but sometimes to the American Medical Association.

I’ve searched the CDC and AMA websites but haven’t found it.

I also searched Snopes.com, but it doesn’t include it.

Because there are variations (some say doctor visits, and the numbers range between 60 and 99 percent), it’s been difficult trying to hunt down the source of the quote.

That’s why I’m posting this. If any readers can shed some light on this, I would sure appreciate hearing from you. I’d love to have verification of the actual original quote and the date it was first published.

I’d like to use the quote with integrity.

Also — if this is close to true, is it possible that we’ve been chasing the rabbit down the wrong hole? That we’ve been addressing symptoms and not the cause?