Society for Medical Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Wellbeing is frequently equated with the psycho/physical state of “wellness” or the psychological state of “happiness”. A close cross cultural reading of the term, however, links it more broadly with striving for “balance” at the individual and social/contextual levels, suggesting that it is a process rather than a momentary or permanent state. The search for balance is enhanced through relationships. Relational wellbeing, an under-examined consideration in the cross-cultural literature on wellbeing, can be defined as the search for and achievement of valued and continuous relationships with family and kinship networks, friends, community, environment, history, and spirituality. Relational wellbeing can buffer both daily and the longer term effects of environmental distress. Like wellbeing, environmental distress is both an ongoing state of mind and a measure of the state of an eco-social system. Eco-social system destruction can stem from among other things, climate change, over exploitation of resources, human and environmental disasters and various forms of civil strife and structural forms of discrimination and disparity. Under circumstances of environmental distress, resilience stems from the emotional, material, and spiritual resources that relationships can provide. In this paper, I outline these theoretical concepts and employ case examples to illustrate how achieving a state of balance under conditions of environmental stress is achieved through seeking relational wellbeing and how co-constructing relational wellbeing can serve to alleviate and repair environmental distress.