Vitality as a concept is found in a variety of contexts, each of which offers different insights. One interesting -and relevant- definition comes out of the field of psychology. Feeling really alive is a familiar yet notably variable aspect of human experience. People regularly speak of being particularly alive or invigorated in certain circumstances or following certain events, whereas in other contexts they can feel dead or drained (Ryan & Frederick, 1997). Vitality is therefore not an everyday feeling, but is rather a specific experience of possessing enthusiasm and spirit. In psychology, it is a subjective experience defined and identified by the person who experiences it.
Vitality is also associated with autonomy and self-actualization, specifically the degree to which one is free of conflicts, unburdened by external controls and feeling capable of effecting action. Correspondingly, feelings of energy such as jitteriness, anxiety or pressure are negatively related to a sense of vitality. This physical dimension is more evident when basic bodily functions are robust and able to be effectively exercised.
Vitality is also a concept expressed in different cultures. What western society refers to as subjective vitality is expressed in China as Chi the source of life, creativity, right action, and harmony. In Japan, the concept of Ki similarly entails energy and power on which one can draw and relates to physical, mental, and spiritual health. Balinese healers attempt to mobilize bayu, a vital spiritual or life force that varies among individuals, and represents what is needed to live, grow, and resist illness.
Vitality refers, in ecology, to the success of an organism in translating nutrients or other inputs into growth. The word appears in numerous papers (for example, Aario et al., 2001; Šantrůček, Svobodová, & Hlavičková, 2003) describing the ability of an organism to survive in the context of its environment.
Vitality is also used to help understand the strength of communities within communities. Ethnolinguistic vitality, for example, is "that which makes a group likely to behave as a distinctive and collective entity within the intergroup setting" (Harwood, Giles, & Bourhis, 1994).
The more vitality a community has the more likely it will survive and thrive. Three structural variables influence vitality; these are demography, institutional support, and status factors. Demographic variables refer the population size of the community and its distribution. Institutional control factors refer to the extent that the community has gained formal and informal representation in the various institutions of a community, region, state or nation and the degree to which the group has organized to shape its own destiny. Status factors refer to a community's social prestige, its socio-historical status and the prestige of its language and culture. The subjective vitality questionnaire (SVQ) is used to evaluate ethnolinguistic vitality.
Key themes characterizing vitality which emerge from this diverse literature include:
- vitality is not the everyday but rather an episodic specialness, a peak experience available to everyone yet not necessarily experienced by everyone (from psychology);
- vitality is interdependent on its environs (from ecology);
- vitality includes an aspect of autonomy or self-actualization allowing the expression of one's nature (from ethnolinguistics), and
- vitality has all of the dimensions of the life form which expresses it- in humans this includes physical, emotional, social and intellectual aspects (From other cultures).