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.
The PERMA theory of well-being theory is Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment. Together, they work to help an individual’s well-being, as opposed to just being happy.
To understand how the PERMA model is better than just finding happiness, we first need to delve into the understanding of happiness theory and how it impacts physical health and emotional wellness.
PERMA is an acronym for a model of wellness, happy, and healthy living put forward by American psychologist and positive psychology theorist Martin Seligman in 2011. It stands for positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishments.
The theory of PERMA includes the elements that promote and fosters happiness. It improves your way of life in significant ways. It is also known as well-being theory. The primary motive of the PERMA model is to relieve human suffering by building conditions that make life happier and worthy.
Positive psychology and the PERMA concept focuses on building human character traits such as love and compassion, gratitude, creativity, curiosity, resilience, integrity, and honest living. The five components mean:
- Positive emotion – feel good factor and fulfillment
- Engagement – completely engrossed in whatever you are doing
- Relationships – authentic and loving connection
- Meaning – living with a sense of purpose
- Accomplishment – a sense of achievement
Have you ever trained your mind to become more happy and agile? Did it work for you? Yes it will, if you use Seligman’s model of PERMA to understand the small elements that promote happiness and sustains well-being in life.
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 building blocks of emotional wellness. The elements of PERMA are:
1) 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.
When you focus on positive emotion, it gives you an opportunity to see things with hope and optimism. It helps to nurture healthy relationships at work and elsewhere. You are in a better position to take chances and embrace opportunities with open arms. Our everyday living can never be the same.
It will be full of emotional highs and lows. It is essential to focus on the feel good factor in life as it promotes well-being and invites more of good things in life. Positive emotions help to sail through difficulties with ease and confidence.
Studies on positive psychology have shown that positive emotions like love, kindness, gratitude, inspiration, peace of mind can help to solve problems creatively. It builds resilience and endurance to fight adversities.
Ways to develop positive emotions
Positive emotions can be developed by the following ways:
- You can practice gratitude more often in your daily life. Be thankful for one person or at least one thing in your life every day and feel the changes within.
- Engage in a hobby or do something that you really love. You can take some time out from your hectic schedule and live for yourself. It can be anything from color doodling, cook a dish for yourself, or gardening.
- Spend quality time with friends and family. Your connection with people you care for can foster positive emotions. Surround yourself with people who make you feel happy.
- You can listen to good music whenever you feel low. It uplifts mood and brings a feel good factor.
- Put yourself in a regular exercise regime. It releases endorphins in your body that elevates mood. You can spend time on physical activities like cycling, dancing, walking, and jogging. All these illicit more positive emotions in you.
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 in happy living.
The second element of the PERMA model 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”.
Being totally engaged and engrossed in an activity means that you are totally committed in whatever you are doing. You can develop a better sense of control over the situation. This makes you less anxious and more hopeful of doing things in the best possible way.
It also brings focus and attentiveness in your daily living. A completely engaged mind is calm and promotes psychological wellness, leading to more happiness and well-being.
Ways to develop engagement
You can have better level of engagement by doing the following:
- Always do the things that you love doing. Note down the things that give you immense joy and satisfaction and do at least one activity 2 to 3 times in a week, if not every day. If you make it a part of your routine, you will experience more engagement in your personal and professional life.
- Analyze your strengths and do things that connect your passion, skills, and abilities. This helps to achieve goals easily. It promotes engagement and gives a good work flow to nurture your talents and live an engaged life.
- You can practice mindfulness by practicing yoga and relaxation exercises. It keeps your mind in the present moment. When you savor your everyday living, you feel more fully engaged with whatever is happening around you.
- Take pause and slow down to engage with everything around you. Simple practices such as enjoying your meal by putting distractions away can make you feel more engaged and improve your quality of life.
Humans are social animals, so naturally our happiness cannot be attained in just isolation. We need people in our lives as much as we need other’s. This way, the feeling of being wanted and being loved gives more meaning and motivation to our life.
Social 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. Research shows that 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.
Human relationships are the core factor that determines bonding. It symbolizes the connection that you have with your loved ones. Loved ones help you to thrive, sustain, and feel good in times of stress and turmoil.
Seligman noted that in order to live a healthy life; you need to build healthy humane ties with peers, family, and colleagues. A good relationship gives you warmth, emotional support, love, and intimacy that make you mentally secure and safe. It protects you from negative emotions like sadness and helps to fight odds in life.
Ways to build relationships
You can build healthy relationships by following:
- Spend quality time with your loved ones by having meals together or plan a holiday. By doing these you can make them feel loved and cared for.
- Make new friends by joining a hobby class or a meditation class. The motive is to promote new relationships and build new social connections. Even online community building of like-minded individuals can do the trick for you.
- Try to nurture empathy and live by it. Get to know your friends and family well by asking about their life and living. You need to be curious about others, and this helps you to learn more about them. Talking about personal life, career, and interests can help to develop new ties.
- Reach out for helping others who are in need. Just let people know that you are with them to support in times of need. This helps in relationship building.
- You should always appreciate others for their deeds and actions. When you give compliments, you make the other person feel good about it. You can talk about a specific quality and let them know how much you like it. For example – complimenting your spouse for a nice dinner or appreciating your teammate for the performance shown in the project.
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?
We all wish to have a meaningful life – a life well lived with a definite purpose and a goal to be accomplished. We focus our efforts, time, and resources to achieve the purpose of life. When you try to find meaning in the work you are doing, life becomes purposeful and worthy.
You will feel motivated to work harder because it increases your efficiency, engagement, participation, and productivity. Moreover, finding meaning in relationships brings happiness, poise, and mental well-being. When you know you have someone to lean upon in times of adversities, life becomes meaningful.
Ways to build a meaningful life
You can live a purposeful life by engaging in meaningful activities such as:
- You can join a charitable organization to support a good human cause. Actually, these are acts of kindness that makes your life meaningful. When you do great deeds for the benefit of others, you feel good. This increases the happiness and well-being quotient. Moreover, you can find yourself much engaged in community activities that improve relationships personally and professionally.
- Try to live an authentic life by being real and honest. For this, practice self-awareness and embrace your strengths and weaknesses equally well. You should stick to your core elements and live by it. This makes life worthy.
While finding meaning in life is important, setting 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 a feeling of satisfaction. 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.
You may feel accomplished when you have successfully acted towards your goals. Goals act as a purpose to follow. It gives you a vision to work upon; a direction that guides motivation and happiness. When you set goals, it challenges you to work hard and achieve it. This brings growth and fosters purposeful living.
After achieving the goal, your sense of accomplishment improves and you feel happy and fulfilled.
Ways to build accomplishment
There are a few ways to improve your sense of accomplishment.
- You should set specific and measurable goals that you can achieve. Goals should be well defined and you should set realistic goals as well. The best way is to set SMART goals.
- Be a lifelong learner. Keep yourself open to learning new ideas and try to master new skills as well. These help to accomplish goals easily. Try out different ways of problem solving by doing few new activities every week.
- Learn to appreciate yourself and celebrate your tiny successes, with regard to meeting your goals. Embrace every small step that you took to achieve things. This helps to build self-confidence and you feel motivated to pursue goals as well. It improves intellectual stimulation and creativity to solve problems.
- Cultivate perseverance and endurance so that when you fail, you would not feel discouraged. Rather put in more efforts to achieve the goal the next time. You need to take each setback as an opportunity for new learning and growth. It taught you a lot and gave you a scope to learn and improve. Perseverance brings tenacity and the willpower to fight all odds.
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 difference between happiness and well-being theory.
The PERMA profiler is a general test meant for adults that measures well-being and flourishing in terms of happiness and overall life fulfillment. This test is based on Seligman’s theory of PERMA, a model for well-being. It measures the five main domains of happiness and wellbeing that is:
- Positive emotion
Later on, two more factors were added in the scale. They are negative emotions and health. Sometimes this scale is also known as PERMAH. This measure is available in different languages to facilitate ease of usage and interpretation. It is a 15 question scale used to measure the five pillars of the PERMA model.
The test was developed by Julie Butler and Margaret kern in 2015-16. It is a reliable measure of all the PERMA domains. (Reference: Butler. J and Kern, M.L 2015, The PERMA profiler, measure overview, University Of Pennsylvania.)
Other measures of PERMA Test / PERMA questionnaire
Since the concept of PERMA is a relatively new concept in psychological well-being, there is one authentic measure of PERMA model components as founded by Dr, Martin Seligman. This is the PERMA profiler, developed in 2016 at University of Pennsylvania. It measures happiness and flourishing in terms of the core components of the PERMA theory.
Two more tests were developed later on, only by changing the items and making it more relevant to work setups. This was meant for the target population on whom the test will be administered.
This test is known as the workplace wellbeing survey. It is a variant of the PERMA profiler, only the context of the questions are changed to fit in for the population. This test is readily available online. This gives a report on your PERMA profile, along with self help tips to improve your workplace skills.
Another related test that was developed for a specific target group is the EPOCH measure of Adolescent wellbeing. This questionnaire is meant for the adolescents and it tests five components of happiness and well-being. These components are engagement, perseverance, optimism, connectedness, and happiness.
It was developed in 2016 and the item format of this test is Likert 5-point scale. It’s applicable grade levels are for the age group of 10-18 years. (Reference: from peggykern.org, rand.org)
PERMA and Positive Psychology
The field of positive psychology has made great progress over the past decade. The goal of this branch of psychology is to nurture happiness and well-being and also help human beings flourish. It means the focus is to evolve, grow, thrive, and sustain in utter fulfillment and joy; to live to the fullest and live a meaningful life.
Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology in his famous book ‘Flourish’, a visionary work published in 2011 laid the foundation of the PERMA model. According to Seligman, PERMA involves not only the absence of illness and presence of a pleasant state of mind but it means positive growth, positive mindset, positive relationship, emotional mastery, purposeful living and successful accomplishment of goals.
The PERMA model supports psychological well-being because it is based on the science of happiness and fulfilled living.
PERMA theory helps to develop life skills to further human strengths, enhances internal capabilities and makes the best use of our talents. It works around the concept of hope, motivation, empathy, self-esteem, goal orientation, and purposeful living. All these make the PERMA theory a breakthrough concept to inculcate emotional wellness, happiness, and meaningful living.
Benefits of the PERMA model
Let us have a quick look at the benefits of using the PERMA model into our daily lives.
- It improves the feel good factor by reducing anxiety and unnecessary worries that you might be focusing on.
- PERMA principles can help you live a meaningful life by making you realize your inner potentials and make the best use of it.
- The PERMA model can aid to grow supportive, friendly, and fulfilling relationships.
- An easy accomplishment of life goals is possible by following the PERMA model.
- PERMA looks into growth and purposeful living. Thus, it helps you to learn to thrive and grow, not merely exist in this world.
- People with higher levels of well-being are better at work. They perform well in various problem solving tasks.
- PERMA can teach you better coping styles with reduced levels of burnout.
- It also helps to maintain good physical health and better immunity.
- People who are happy and fulfilled are prosocial. They have more satisfying social relationships.
- There will be less anxiety, worries, and depressive symptoms.
- These people are cooperative, compassionate, and have better self-control.
- Workplaces can use the PERMA model to improve employee performance and raise the overall well-being of the organization.
How to apply the PERMA model in your life?
As already mentioned, Martin Seligman believed that the five core components of PERMA can help people live a happy and meaningful life by giving a state of flow, filled with joy and eternal well-being. To incorporate the principles of PERMA, you can follow few simple ways:
1. Positive perspective
Try to develop a positive outlook towards life; no matter whatever bad happens around you. Positive thoughts and positive emotions nurture psychological well-being. It is desirable to develop a growth oriented mindset to help you adapt well to new situations.
A positive perspective brings new hope and courage to fight odds in life. It brings pleasure, joy, and content by reducing pain and suffering; and as you know these are the key to happy living.
2. Develop authentic connections
Authentic social bonds are important for a happy and fulfilled living. Meaningful connections bring joy, excitement, peace, and fulfillment. Try to develop good relationships and social connections. It could be by showing a kind act to someone, being grateful for what others have done to you, or by making healthy relationships that matter a lot in your life.
You can grow connections by spending time with people you care for. You can even mutually support your teammates and co-workers and develop an everlasting bond in your workplace. Being conscious of the connections you make, you can feel happier, relaxed, and well organized.
3. Sense of worth
When you have a good sense of self worth you can become the best version of yourself. You should work on developing confidence and self-esteem. When you feel good about yourself, you can follow all the components of the PERMA MODEL.
- To feel good about you is a positive emotion.
- A lot of positive emotion means more engagement in work and relationships with minimal distractions at play.
- Similarly, more engagement in life can bring fulfilled and happy relationships.
- With good relationships, you may feel complete and find a meaning and purpose in life.
- Lastly, purposeful living leads to successful accomplishment of life goals and leads to overall well-being.
4. Practice gratitude
Gratitude brings a sense of humility and belongingness. When you are thankful to others you become a better person. It fosters more affection and concern for others. Being grateful enables you to count your blessings and that adds meaning to your life. Gratitude is associated with more happiness.
It helps to relish good relationships and improves your overall mental health. PERMA can be cultivated in your life by practicing gratitude.
5. Being mindful
Being mindful enables you to savor every day moments of life. Thus, if you practice it regularly, you can follow the PERMA component of engagement and achieving happiness that you have wished for.
You will be more aware of the moments you are in. As stress is reduced, it improves mood states and you can feel more positive emotions. It allows better communication and social engagement as well.
6. Small acts of kindness
When you help others and do acts of kindness, you can improve the feel good factor as well as the relationship domain of the PERMA model. It encourages you to be more proactive and also improves self-esteem.
7. Smile and find happiness in tiny joys of life
Life is all about enjoying the seemingly tiny moments, filled with joy and pleasure. If you embrace the moment you are in, you can increase engagement and develop the positive emotions. The PERMA theory tells you to savor and accept life as it is.
Eat your meal mindfully and you can enjoy the taste to the fullest. Take a splash in the pool on a hot summer day and realize how you feel. When you feel good and smile quite often in your daily life, it generates positive emotions in you. These things are ignored by us too often but it contributes a lot to happiness and well-being.
8. Enrich your life with good work
According to the PERMA concept, human beings should strive for a meaningful life. Now you must be wondering how to incorporate a good purpose and add meaning to your everyday life?
You can seek new knowledge, explore unknown areas and add to your understanding of learning new things, you can even hone your current skills and make it more productive. The only way to make it possible is by becoming a lifelong learner. These steps will help to enrich your life and will add meaning to it.
9. Use your strengths in the right way
Identify your inner strengths and work on it. It improves work engagement, positive emotions, and accomplishment of goals. You will feel empowered and energized to fight adversities, if any. If you know your strengths, you feel motivated to work hard and achieve goals easily.
You are open to accept mistakes and rectify them on time. It also makes you feel capable and confident. Do things you are good at and at the same time explore new avenues of learning and skill development. When you start making small successes, you work on improving yourself in more possible ways.
10. Practice forgiveness
When you let go of your past hurts and emotional wounds, you can develop more of positive
emotions. It gives you peace of mind and inner joy. By now, you have learned to forgive those who sin against you. You have released your anger and resentments that were holding you back from some time now. When you forgive others, you become the best version of yourself.
It frees you from anguish and you can focus your energy in doing something constructive. This adds meaning and purpose to your life. It also helps to achieve your goals. Thus, by following the principles of the PERMA theory, you can create a fulfilling and enriched life for yourself
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.
Parting words from ‘TheMindFool’
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 model is thus a way of life and not just a formula for a quick fix.
A Psychologist with a master's degree in Psychology, a former school psychologist, and a teacher by profession Chandrani loves to live life simply and happily. She is an avid reader and a keen observer. Writing has always been a passion for her, since her school days. It helps to de-stress and keeps her mentally agile. Pursuing a career in writing was a chance occurrence when she started to pen down her thoughts and experiences for a few childcare and parenting websites. Her lovable niche includes mental health, parenting, childcare, and self-improvement. She is here to share her thoughts and experiences and enrich the lives of few if not many.