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PERMA Theory: Life’s Permanent Must-Have

PERMA Theory: Life’s Permanent Must-HaveUpdated on November 14, 2020 | Published on September 28, 2019
Reviewed by Dr. Johanna Lamm, PsyD, Licensed Psychologist

Perma Theory of Happiness

As human beings, we are always looking for ways to finding happiness but what if we didn’t need to find happiness anymore only because we realize that it’s within us? That’s the well-being theory

—by Martin Seligman.

What is the concept of happiness in life? Is happiness the state of having a meaningful life? Possibly. Is happiness having a close-knit company of family and friends to share your good and bad times? Sounds about right. Is happiness about feeling positive? Not entirely. Do you seem to disagree? Let’s break this down to better understand this theory. And so, enters renowned positive psychologist, Dr. Martin Seligman, and his Well-being Theory.

It was after 2002 when Dr. Martin Seligman’s published book and theory by the same name of Authentic Happiness led him to question his own study and discover a greater theory in the making. The new theory called Well-being Theory was published in his book Flourish in 2011. According to this theory, Seligman explained that there are five elements to ‘well-being’, which is summed up in the acronym PERMA™.

The PERMA™ model of well-being theory is Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Achievement. Together, they work to help an individual’s well-being, as opposed to just being happy.

So, why is being happy not good enough as a concept in life? To understand how the PERMA theory is better than just finding happiness, we first need to delve into the understanding of happiness theory and its shortcomings.

According to the 2002 theory, happiness can be analyzed for our better understanding by studying its three components or elements. These three elements are positive emotions, engagement, and meaning. Let us first understand these.

3 Perma Theory Elements for Happiness

1) Positive Emotion

Positive Emotion
Positive Emotion

Happiness is when you feel good about yourself or your actions or life in general. So, happiness also means that you’re in a positive state of mind.

Martin Seligman has dedicated his work into understanding and practicing positive psychology. According to the theory of happiness, positive emotion is all about what we feel. It’s positivity, pleasure, warmth, comfort, ecstasy, etc. Positive emotions make up for what is called a ‘pleasant life’. It’s simply about if you feel good or positive about something- you’re happy.

2) Engagement


Engagement forms the actions of your life. Feeling good is a mental satisfaction. But when you do something that makes you happy, for example, you helped the needy or got all the to-do list done on time, this means you’re engaged to happy living.

The second element is engagement; this part explains what you do in life, what you engage within life. An ‘engaged life’ is when you’re completely absorbed in an activity that it almost feels like losing self-consciousness. Think about it- when a painter is engrossed in his/her painting or a scientist that goes crazy doing all the “science work”- total engagement is why you’ll feel happy at the end of the tunnel.

3) Meaning


Doing something beyond what is expected out of you because you believe in the cause or its purpose is finding meaning in life.

The final or third element is meaning. Meaning is finding a purpose in life. You are in a corporate job to earn a living for you and your family but you are an ardent supporter of green living, or you think your purpose in life is to help those in need- finding meaning or purpose in life is doing something bigger than you, for the good of the community or the future. These acts of selflessness are what makes one happy about themselves and their life.  

Now, you may be thinking- hey, this doesn’t sound that bad. While finding happiness as per the theory of happiness may hold water but it’s naive at its very core. Happiness in nature is one-dimensional, meaning it is about just feeling good, and at most times it’s just about the current moment. Here is an example to understand it better, we exercise to feel good and positive, we spend time engaging in hobbies to feel good, and we adopt an external factor like philanthropy or social service during the weekends to find meaning in our life. All of this makes us happy but can it sustain once the moment has passed?

Here come the missing pieces of relationships and achievements in life. PERMA theory says to aim for well-being in life and not just momentary happiness. Well-being is achieving an inner state of peace that can sustain long after the moment has passed. In this manner, the PERMA™ model is a way of life.

Understanding PERMA™ Theory: Life’s Permanent Must-Have

Understanding PERMA Theory: Life’s Permanent Must-Have

So, what do relationships and achievements contribute to the whole theory of well-being?

Contribution of Relationships and Achievements in the PERMA theory


Humans are social beings, so naturally our happiness cannot be attained in just isolation. We need people in our lives as much as we are needed in other’s. This way, the feeling of being wanted and being loved gives more meaning and motivation to our life.

Relationships are the connections you make in this world. It’s your family, your friends, your close confidants, and anyone who brings about a positive growth in you. We are social beings at the end of the day, so we thrive when we are surrounded by a group of people that pushes us to our full capacity. By this, it’s not just about feeling competitive. Relationships are important because it instills values of sensitivity, kindness, love, forgiveness, sharing, and encouragement in individuals. Healthy and positive relationships with people help you to flourish in life. And knowing you have people who care for you and love you makes you feel good, even in their absence.


While finding meaning in life is important, but achieving goals is equally rewarding. Goals and hard work go hand in hand. And hard work is not a day’s job. These days of perseverance after you’ve finally achieved your goal stays longer as landmark moments of your life.

Achievement is feeling a sense of accomplishment. Accomplishment happens with hard-work. When you commit yourself to achieve a goal, you get invested and strive until you don’t complete it. Why achievement is important is because it gives more than meaning or purpose in life; it’s about doing something and perfecting it. Goals give us a direction and focus in life and achievement picks us up on dark days. Why is that so? Because hard work is an act of perseverance. When you decide to work hard to achieve your goals in life, say a project at work or running a marathon, you’re hooked on. While being engaged in an activity is one thing, achieving goals is more. It is passion and going all out after it. These days of committed hard work gets etched in your memory even long after the moment has passed.

While the five pillars of PERMA™ function individually, they unite in their result of achieving well-being. How? Well-being is not just about feeling good, but it’s about sustaining a positivity within that keeps multiplying as you go ahead. It’s not just about momentary happiness; it’s about finding meaning in life and striving towards it.

So, happiness is what you do to make yourself happy, but well-being is how everything in your life adds up to make you happy from within. While happiness makes a day good, well-being strives every day to make your future better. This is the very difference between happiness and well-being theory.

Happiness can come from external factors of pleasure and enjoyment, but well-being comes from within. Well-being cannot be just in your head- it’s a consequence of your actions you take every day.

To sum it up

Well-being is a combination of having positive emotions, engaging in activities to attain perfection, maintaining relationships that form your strengths, finding meaning in life and continuously achieving goals in life. The PERMA theory is thus a way of life and not just a formula for a quick fix.