Aging Well in an Upscale Retirement Community: The Relationships among Perceived Stress, Mattering, and Wellness

Article excerpt

Residents (N = 142) of a southeastern, upscale retirement community completed measures of wellness, perceived stress, and mattering. Participants scored higher than did a group of adults under age 60 on 4 of 5 second-order wellness factors and Total Wellness, with medium to large effect sizes. Implications for counselors are discussed.

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It is well known that over the course of the last 100 years, the life span of individuals in the United States and elsewhere has increased dramatically. Americans lived to be only 47 at the turn of the 20th century and comprised 1 in 25 persons. In contrast, by the year 2000, the average life span had almost doubled, and persons over 60 comprised 1 in every 8 individuals (U.S. Administration on Aging, 2005). Less well known but equally dramatic has been the shift from viewing old age as a time of near universal distress, decline, disease, and depression to a new view of healthy aging captured in "the new mantra ... aging well," "positive aging.... successful aging.... [and] resourceful aging" (Anhus & Reeve, 2006, p. 137). Concomitant with this paradigm shift is the need to focus empirical studies "on those persons who are aging well" (Peel, McClure, & Bartlett, 2005, p. 299).

The World Health Organization (1952) defined health as more than the absence of disease, reflecting a positive perspective that incorporates physical, mental, and social well-being. To understand health in the older population, then, the emphasis in measurement needs to move away from morbidity and mortality to positive health and optimal aging (Peel et al., 2005). Within the counseling literature, models of holistic wellness have contributed to a better understanding of the factors involved in positive functioning for young (e.g., Myers & Mobley, 2004) and midlife individuals (e.g., Degges-White & Myers, 2006). Existing studies have illuminated the relationship between holistic wellness factors and a variety of other variables, such as perceived stress (Degges-White, Myers, Adelman, & Pastoor, 2003; Powers, Myers, Tingle, & Powers, 2004), caregiving stress (Myers, 2003), marriage satisfaction (Myers, Madathil, & Tingle, 2005), and mattering (Dixon Rayle & Myers, 2004). To date, these models have not been applied to the older population (Myers, 2005; Myers & Sweeney, in press).

A variety of definitions of wellness have been proposed. For example, Dunn (1961, 1977), the architect of the modern wellness movement, 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" (Dunn, 1961, p. 4). Myers, Sweeney, and Witmer (2000), after reviewing literature from multiple disciplines, concluded that wellness is

   a way of life oriented toward optimal health and well-being, in
   which body, mind, and spirit are integrated by the individual to
   live life more fully within the human and natural community.
   Ideally, it is the optimum state of health and well-being that each
   individual is capable of achieving. (p. 252)

This positive, holistic perspective is reflected in a number of models that present various components or characteristics of healthy persons as essential to functioning well. Common components of these models are social, emotional, intellectual, occupational, and spiritual wellness.

Myers and Sweeney (2005b, 2005d; Sweeney & Myers, 2003) developed the Indivisible Self: An Evidenced-Based Model of Wellness (IS-Wel; see Figure 1) through structural equation modeling (see Hattie, Myers, & Sweeney, 2004) and presented a tri-level factor structure to conceptualize the components of holistic wellness. A single, higher order total wellness factor, 5 second-order factors of the self, and 17 third-order factors compose this model, which has been used in multiple studies of wellness, including more than 30 doctoral dissertations and an equal number of independent studies (see Myers & Sweeney, in press, for a review of wellness research). …