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Employers are becoming increasingly concerned with the well-being of their employees. As a result, they are trying to learn how to help their employees be well. To accomplish this task, many companies are looking at what a variety of wellness experts (e.g., doctors, nurses, psychologists, nutritionists, wellness companies, etc.) have had to say about wellness. Surprisingly, the work of philosophers, who have been studying well-being for thousands of years, is rarely consulted. This should be rectified. While philosophers are certainly not the only authorities on well-being, the amount of time that they have spent studying wellness along with the intellectual rigor with which they have carried out their studies suggests that they must have some unique insights about what it takes to be well. As a result, wellness focused employers would do well to become acquainted with the philosophers take on well-being.


The Fundamental Components Of Wellness

Philosophers of well-being are primarily concerned with what we might call the fundamental components of wellness. These are items, objects, states of mind, states of the body, etc. that are good for individuals on their own and regardless of whether or not they bring about anything else that is good for them. They stand in contrast to things like money or power, which, though not good for people on their own, provide people with the ability to acquire things that are good for them on their own. For example, someone may use money to pay for a trip where they visit friends and family.

Due to their special interest in the fundamental components of wellness, the philosophical study of well-being has been dominated by repeated attempts to identify them. The most popular proposals are typically placed into one of the following three families of theories. These include.

Hedonism: According to hedonistic theories of well-being, only pleasure (or happiness), is a fundamental ingredient of wellness. Everything else that is good for people is good for them when and because it brings about happiness.

Desire-Satisfactionism: Theories of well-being in this particular family claim that having one’s desires satisfied is the fundamental wellness ingredient. 

Objective List Theories: This category has, over time, become a catch all for any theory of well-being that is not covered by the previous two categories. Often, objective list theories state that there is more than one fundamental component of wellness. For example, they may claim that both being happy and having one’s desires satisfied are fundamental components of wellness. Objective list theories also typically include other items aside from pleasure and desire satisfaction (e.g., friendship, intelligence, and health). Furthermore, each of the items on the list may be associated with a particular kind of wellness (e.g., mental wellness, physical wellness, intellectual wellness, etc.)


Wellness Solutions And The Fundamental Components Of Wellness

Wellness solutions are supposed to help individuals be well. Ultimately, this can be accomplished in two ways, both of which involve the fundamental components of wellness. In order to be successful, any wellness solution must either:

  1. Produce, as an immediate consequence of their use, one or more of the components of wellness. Some wellness solutions make those who use them better off immediately and directly as a result of their use. Solutions that focus on behavioral health are often successful in this sense, as they produce, as a direct consequence of their use, a decrease in stress and an increase in happiness.

  2. Make it easier to acquire or keep one or more of the components of wellness down the road. Some wellness solutions may be successful even if they fail to immediately bring about one or more of the fundamental components of wellness. This is because they might put those who have used the solution in a better position to acquire and keep more of these components later on down the line. For example, by increasing expected lifespan, many physical wellness solutions give people more time to either acquire or possess a component of wellness, like happiness, friendships, etc.

Whether or not a wellness solution is successful in either of these ways, however, depends on what the ingredients of wellness are. Since, perhaps unsurprisingly, philosophers have not come to an agreement about what the components of wellness are, it might seem as though they are not yet in a position to evaluate the effectiveness of wellness solutions. This reaction, while understandable, is misguided. Though philosophers ought to consider the work that philosophers have done, they are not obligated to wait for a philosophical consensus about well-being to arise before they decide for themselves what it takes to be well.

At the same time, the lack of agreement amongst philosophers might suggest that employers should alter their approach to making their employees well either by:

  1. Being transparent with their employees: If you are relying on a particular theory of well-being, let your employees know. This will help them feel that their employer has done its research and knows what it is talking about when it comes to their wellness suggestions.

  2. Letting their employees decide for themselves: Employees may be just as good as their employer at deciding what the fundamental components of wellness are. As a result, companies might incorporate what they have learned about the philosophy of well-being by soliciting employee opinions on the nature of wellness. Employers can then use this information to determine which wellness solutions make the most sense for their employees in light of their views on theories of wellness that philosophers have proposed.

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