Meaningfulness

Salutogenesis is a term coined by Aaron Antonovsky, a Professor of Medical Sociology. The term describes an approach focusing on factors that support human health and well-being, rather than on factors that cause disease. More specifically, the model is concerned with the relationship between health, stress and coping. His theories reject the traditional medical dichotomy separating health and illness. He describes the relationship as a continuous variable, what he called the health-ease versus dis-ease continuum.

Antonovsky developed the term from his studies of how people manage stress and stay well. He observed that stress is ubiquitous, but not all individuals have negative health outcomes in response to stress. Instead, some people achieve health despite their exposure to potentially disabling stress factors.

In his 1979 book Health, Stress and Coping, he described a variety of influences that led him to the question of how people survive, adapt and overcome in the face of even the most punishing life stress experiences. In his theory, whether a stress factor will be either pathogenic, neutral or salutary, depends on what he called generalized resistance resources or GRRs. A GRR is any coping resource that is effective in avoiding or combating a range of psychosocial stressors, resources such as money, ego-strength and social support.

Antonovsky’s formulation was that the GRRs enabled individuals to make sense of and manage events. He argued that over time, in response to positive experiences provided by successful utilization of different GRRs, an individual would develop an attitude that was in itself the essential tool for coping.

The sense of coherence is a theoretical formulation that provides a central explanation for the role of stress in human functioning. Beyond the specific stress factors that one might encounter in life, and beyond the perception and response to those events, what determines whether stress will cause harm is whether or not the stress violates the sense of coherence.

In his formulation, the sense of coherence has three components:

Comprehensibility: a belief that things happen in an orderly and predictable fashion and a sense that you can understand events in your life and reasonably predict what will happen in the future.

Manageability: a belief that you have the you have the skills or ability, the support, the help, or the resources necessary to take care of things, and that things are manageable and within your control.

Meaningfulness: a belief that things in life are interesting and a source of satisfaction, that things are really worth it and that there is good reason or purpose to care about what happens.

The third element is the most important. If a person believes there is no reason to persist and survive and confront challenges, if they have no sense of meaning, then they will have no motivation to comprehend and manage events. His essential argument is that salutogenesis depends on experiencing a strong sense of coherence. His research demonstrated that the sense of coherence predicts positive health outcomes.

Antonovsky viewed his work as primarily addressed to the fields of health psychology, behavioral medicine and the sociology of health. The term has been adopted in the medical fields of healthcare and preventive medicine. It has also been been adopted as a term to describe traditional concepts in alternative medicine, naturopathy, homeopathy and anthroposophical medicine.

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