There are empirically studied and proven ways to increase wellbeing in all 8 pillars of wellness. However, it is important to note that the research is based primarily on Western, individualistic cultures and, as such, may not be applicable to many, or most people. Therefore, improving wellness is a personal journey; what wellness looks like in each pillar is unique for each person. Everyone should evaluate the outcomes they want in each pillar and tailor their own wellness strategies in ways that are congruent with their own value systems and culture.
In North America we live in an individualistic society that emphasizes the uniqueness of each person’s personal characteristics, needs and motives. Self-reliance and self-interest are valued here, where it is common to say that “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”. Research shows, however, that as much as 70 percent of the world’s population lives in collectivist cultures where a person’s loyalty to a group, like a family or a tribe, overrides their personal goals. In these groups you are more likely to hear that “the nail that stands out gets pounded down.”
Different cultural traditions create different notions of self; in more individualistic societies, “the self” likely conjures up images of a single, autonomous and independent person responsible only to themselves or perhaps a very small group of immediate family members. In other cultures, however, the “self” may include immediate family, extended family or a whole community. To some groups, “self” must include spiritual leaders or religious communities while many Indigenous groups consider themselves to be inseparable from their ancestors. Perhaps God or some other higher power is an important part of your sense of “self” or maybe you come from one of the cultures where the notion of “self” doesn’t exist at all.
It may be easier for people who were raised in individualistic cultures like North America to act on mainstream “self-care” or wellness advice because they may only need to consider the impact on themselves while people with more collectivist values may have more difficulty implementing changes because they must consider the impact on, and the judgement of, others.
Therefore, the suggestions offered on these pages are merely that; ideas that we respectfully offer up for your consideration. These pages are filled with useful techniques that have been proven to work with many people, but they may not resonate with you and that is okay.
We recognize that the Canadian Food guide offers nutrition advice that may seem insensitive to people whose traditions and rituals include certain dietary restrictions. We recognize that not everyone can exercise every day or that your cultural values may require you to endure financial hardship or sacrifice study time for family or community commitments.
We would love to be able to compile a comprehensive list of wellness practices that span all cultures and traditions. However, history is a great teacher and we have seen how damaging it can be when one culture appropriates the traditions of another, modifies them and then disseminates them as their own. Rather than represent ourselves as experts in all cultures, we feel your interests are best served by suggesting that if your efforts at pursuing wellness are impacted by your cultural beliefs, traditions or rituals, you connect with cultural leaders or knowledge keepers. You are the expert in your own life; they are the experts in their practices, and we encourage you to find a form of wellness that makes the most sense to you. In case you do not have access to a cultural leader, below you will find a list of local cultural centers that you can connect with as you continue on your wellness journey.
Individualism for Social Workers:
Studies show that individualism is correlated with economic growth. The higher your socioeconomic status, the more likely you are to demonstrate individualistic behaviours. Collectivism may be valued, and observed, in lower income populations served by social workers. Consider street engaged persons sharing food, clothing and shelter. Consider low-income neighborhoods where food and services are shared and traded, or people involved in the criminal justice system may refuse to incriminate their colleagues because loyalty to the group overrides personal needs. We must be aware that the vulnerable populations we serve quite possibly have more collectivist values than we do. As we discuss wellness with service users, we must remain sensitive to potential differences in our frame of reference.
Ethical Considerations: In all dealings with service users, it is important to consider the standards of practice under which we operate. Members of the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers must be “sensitive to cultural and ethnic diversity” and, as such, should not recommend wellness solutions that may cause cultural or emotional hardship.