Wellness is generally used to mean a healthy balance of the mind, body and spirit that results in an overall feeling of well-being. It has been used in the context of alternative medicine since Halbert L. Dunn, M.D., began using the phrase high level wellness in the 1950s. The modern concept of wellness did not, however, become popular until the 1970s.
The term has been defined by the Wisconsin-based National Wellness Institute as an active process of becoming aware of and making choices toward a more successful existence.  This is consistent with a shift in focus away from illness in viewing human health, typical of contexts where the term wellness is used. In other words, wellness is a view of health that emphasizes the state of the entire being and its ongoing development.
The phrase can also be seen as an analogue to the medical term "homeostasis".
Wellness can also be described as "the constant, conscious pursuit of living life to its fullest potential."
Halbert L. Dunn, M.D., began using the phrase high level wellness in the 1950s, based on a series of lectures at a Unitarian Universalist Church in Arlington, Virginia, in the United States. Dunn (196, p. 4) defined wellness as "an integrated method of functioning which is oriented toward maximizing the potential of which the individual is capable. It requires that the individual maintain a continuum of balance and purposeful direction within the environment where he is functioning." He also stated that "wellness is a direction in progress toward an ever-higher potential of functioning" (p. 6).
Alternative approaches to wellness are often denoted by the use of two different phrases: health and wellness, and wellness programs. These kinds of wellness programs offer alternative medicine techniques to improve wellness. Whether these techniques actually improve physical health is controversial and a subject of much debate. James Randi and the James Randi Educational Foundation are outspoken critics of this alternative new age concept of wellness. The behaviors in the pursuit of wellness often include many health related practices, such as natural therapies.
Wellness, as a luxury pursuit, is found obviously in the more affluent societies because it involves managing the body state after the basic needs of food, shelter and basic medical care have already been met. Many of the practices applied in the pursuit of wellness, in fact, are aimed at controlling the side effects of affluence, such as obesity and inactivity. Wellness grew as a popular concept starting in the 19th century, just as the middle class began emerging in the industrialized world, and a time when a newly prosperous public had the time and the resources to pursue wellness and other forms of self-improvement.
Wellness can be described as a state that combines health and happiness. Thus, those factors that contribute to being healthy and happy will also likely contribute to being well. Factors that contribute to health and happiness have long been recognized, at least since the time of Ancient Greeks. To achieve a state of wellness, one has to work on its determinants. The determinants of wellness are: better understanding of concepts like destiny, health practices, spirituality, family, environment, work, money and security, health services, social support and leisure.
Wellness as defined by The Foundation for Wellness Professionals is considered care without drugs that can not only eliminate health problems but prevent them. Wellness enhancement focuses on minimizing the effects of the three dimensions of stress: Physical Stress which causes nervous system irritation, Chemical Stress causing body toxicity, and Mental Stress which can induce hormonal changes namely in the Adrenal Glands.
Definitions of wellness vary depending upon who is promoting it. These wellness promoters try to facilitate a healthier population and a higher quality of life. Wellness can be defined as the pursuit of a healthy, balanced lifestyle. Wellness, as an alternative concept, is generally thought to mean more than the mere absence of disease; rather it is an optimal state of health. Wellness is pursued by people interested in recovering from ill health or specific health conditions or by those interested in optimizing their already good state of health.
Supporters of these programs believe that many factors contribute to wellness: living in a clean environment, eating organic food, regularly engaging in physical exercise, balance in career; family; and relationships, and developing religious faith. But, there are two basic widely different approaches to wellness. The original faith-based wellness programs offer a spiritual approach that is in opposition to more recent secular wellness promoters.
Some well known wellness promoters are Deepak Chopra, Michael Roizen, Mehmet Oz, Don B. Ardell, John Travis, David F. Duncan, and Andrew Weil.
 Secular-based programs
The aging population participates in wellness programs in order to feel better and have more energy. Wellness programs allow individuals to take increased responsibility for their health behaviors. People often enroll in a private wellness program to improve fitness, stop smoking, or to learn how to manage their weight.
Workplace wellness programs are recognized by more and more companies for their value in improving health and well-being of their employees. They are part of a company's health and safety program. These wellness programs are designed to improve employee morale, loyalty, and productivity. They could consist of as little as a gym full of exercise equipment that is available to their employees on company property during the workday. But they may also cover smoking cessation programs, nutrition; weight; or stress management training, health risk assessments, and health screenings.
 Faith-based programs
Religious organizations often provide an array of services to residents in need, such as food, shelter, clothing, childcare and senior services in the community. Faith-based wellness ministries are simply wellness programs sponsored by the faith-based community, which are similar to those offered by others, but generally also focus on the spiritual, New Age and religious aspects of wellness from the perspective of a particular faith. Here, wellness is viewed as a quest for spiritual wholeness. Robert H. Schuller's be happy Beatitudes, for example, expounds upon the New Testament and presents eight positive principles for fulfillment. New Age guru Deepak Chopra, author of more than 40 books on spirituality and health, offers an alternative and New Age spirituality perspective to wellness.
Please note that there are many charitable services provided by religious organizations that do NOT qualify as faith-based, because they make no religious requirements of the recipients. For example, Roman Catholic food kitchens typically are open to all regardless of creed. This is in contrast to the drug addiction programs of the Nation of Islam, as described in the Autobiography of Malcolm X, where the addict is exhorted to appeal to Allah for help. Alcoholics Anonymous has the form of a faith based program but many of its chapters leave the interpretation of 'higher power' to the individual.
Faith-based wellness also includes specific diets, such as Dr. George Malkmus' Bible-based Hallelujah Diet and others.
- NY Times: History of the word wellness