Why Salutogenesis Is the Best New Word in the Dictionary
The word is a mouthful, but it says a lot about health and well-being.
Posted April 26, 2019
Earlier this week, Merriam-Webster announced the addition of more than 640 words to its dictionary. Hands down, the most exciting addition to me was salutogenesis. This word was coined by sociologist Aaron Antonovsky 40 years ago, but it’s just now making its way into common parlance. And that’s big news, because the ideas behind salutogenesis are definitely worth talking about.
In a nutshell, salutogenesis is a model of health which focuses on the factors that promote physical and mental well-being rather than those that cause disease. It’s a close cousin of several better-known, more pronounceable terms, such as health promotion and preventive medicine. Yet there are subtle distinctions that set salutogenesis apart.
In a nutshell:
- Disease prevention focuses on minimizing health risk factors.
- Health promotion focuses on maximizing healthful behaviors.
- Salutogenesis focuses on the resources that move people toward overall well-being, even during stressful times.
A look at worldview
Antonovsky was particularly interested in people’s sense of coherence—a view of the world as comprehensible, manageable, and meaningful. He believed that people with a strong sense of coherence were better able to mobilize their personal resources to cope with life’s challenges and demands.
A growing body of evidence supports this idea. Studies published within the last two months alone showed that a strong sense of coherence was linked to:
- Healthy habits—such as eating wisely, being physically active, and sleeping enough—among college students
- Greater resilience among family caregivers for people with dementia
- Post-traumatic growth after potentially traumatizing events among ambulance personnel
- Less cognitive and social impairment among physical rehab patients
A salute to salutogenesis
Over the past four decades, the salutogenic perspective has helped guide the field of health promotion. It has also contributed to the broader biopsychosocial approach—which focuses on the interaction of biological, psychological, and social factors—to dealing with chronic disease.
Antonovsky’s ideas about sense of coherence have been particularly influential. They’ve provided a theoretical framework for interventions such as:
- Patient education to improve people’s understanding of their health (comprehensibility)
- Disease self-management classes to increase people’s skill at managing their health and self-confidence in their ability to do so (manageability)
- Peer support groups to foster people’s belief that they can make a meaningful difference in their health through purposeful action (meaningfulness)
A word to the wise: Salutogenesis may never be a term you toss around casually in conversation (although it will impress people if you do). But it’s a welcome addition to the dictionary—and, more importantly, a positive and proactive way to think about health and well-being.