5 Key Elements of Positive Psychology: The PERMA Model
Positive psychology is more than the study of happiness. It is a branch of psychology that focuses on positive human functioning; a field that explores human flourishing. Flourishing is a crucial concept in positive psychology – not to mention the large number of publications that tie the two ideas together in their titles. It refers to a state that’s without distress and filled with vitality – and the ultimate goal of positive psychology is to promote flourishing.
According to Dr. Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, one way to flourish is through cultivating well-being. With this in mind, he put forward the notion that well-being goes beyond positive feelings. Other factors, like our hobbies, connections, values, or even goals, can all influence how well – or unwell – we feel psychologically.
In 2011, he proposed the PERMA Model, or the PERMA Theory of Well-Being, in his book Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being. In it, he suggests that there are five elements for flourishing. He used the acronym PERMA to represent the five building blocks, and suggested that we can actively improve our well-being by cultivating, and developing, these five aspects of our lives:
P - Positive Emotion
How do you feel today? Are you happy, content, and loved; or are you sad, frustrated, and lonely? The first element, positive emotion, highlights the important role of emotions, and proposes that how you feel, even now, can actually affect your well-being.
Feelings of pleasure, contentment, euphoria, joy, and comfort can all generate positive emotions. In fact, positive emotions can benefit us not only mentally, but also physically. Just as they can boost your creativity, they can also help to improve your physical health. As you feel more positive, the way you think can also change. And through this more optimistic lens, you are more likely to see the good, even in the bad. That’s the power of positive thinking.
There are two components of positive emotion: happiness and life satisfaction, as Dr. Seligman suggests. When you show more gratitude to others, practice self-compassion, and accept yourself unconditionally, you can experience more positive emotions.
E - Engagement
Being engaged means being in the flow. Is there an activity that you often find yourself losing track of time while engaging in? What do you feel pleasurable doing only for the sake of it, such that you do it without the fear of failing?
First introduced by Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – a positive psychologist – in his book: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, flow is a mental state when a person becomes fully immersed in an activity. Getting into a flow state is a unique experience that is often known as “being in the zone”. When you’re in the flow state, according to Dr. Csikszentmihalyi, you’ll experience long-lasting happiness and a sense of joy. And as a result, getting into the flow state and being engaged in life is an essential part of well-being.
Engage yourself in activities that help you navigate your way to the flow state. If you aren’t sure what activities can guide you there, keep exploring. Play with an instrument, create art using the power of words, or express your feelings on a canvas. Whatever provokes your interest, try that.
R - Relationships
While alone time can sometimes recharge our energy – not to mention its necessity for introverts – we, humans, are social animals. And our desire to connect with others is just like our craving for food. Dr. Seligman even quoted: “Very little that is positive is solitary.” In other words, prolonged solitude can be poisonous to our well-being. Thankfully, healthy relationships are the antidote.
Relationships, whether it’s friendship, love, or relationships among family members, can help enhance social well-being. However, when a relationship turns sour, it can become emotionally draining. Toxic relationships with a narcissist, a gaslighter, or a bully can not only take a massive toll on your mental health, but they can also damage your self-esteem and raise your stress level. And eventually, unhealthy relationships can negatively affect your well-being.
Building healthy relationships is the key to well-being. Reflect on your current relationships, and identify those who are constantly dragging your mentality down. Set boundaries with them, and limit your time to catching up only with people who are positive or supportive, and who genuinely care about you.
M - Meaning
What do you care most about in life? Dr. Seligman suggested that a meaningful life is when one has something “bigger than the self” to serve, belong to, believe in, and strive for. Unlike the other elements, this one is more about your values, and the impact you want to create in the world. This could be anything from helping to make a difference with mental health, feminism, or animal rights, to racial equality, ageism, or poverty. And as long as you genuinely believe, and are passionate about the topic, anything can be your meaning in life.
A lack of meaning, however, can harm your well-being. In fact, meaning, or purpose, is important for us both personally and professionally. This is because it can help us stay motivated and engaged in our work. It allows us to understand the reason behind – and the impact of – our actions. Meaning drives behavior. Without it, we can hardly understand the significance of our existence, and thus struggle to find happiness intrinsically.
Reflect upon your own values. What topics do you tend to pay attention to? Your source of meaning doesn’t necessarily have to be a social issue, nor does it always have to be a global phenomenon. Your purpose could simply be to make others happy. Volunteer and practice altruism, and you’ll likely enhance your well-being.
A - Accomplishment
You feel a sense of accomplishment when you achieve your goals. This feeling is crucial to our well-being. We can all experience it by completing simple tasks like checking off a to-do list and decluttering our homes, and reaching bigger goals such as completing a degree or getting a promotion.
The first step to enhancing this element is to set some goals. Goals are highly personal, and the goals you set for yourself depend significantly on the best version of yourself that you want to become. Some might want to master a new language, and some might hope to quit smoking. Perhaps you wish to increase your productivity at work. When setting goals, make sure that they are SMART: in other words, that you are setting specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound goals.
What are your goals? And how are you going to achieve them? Set SMART goals, formulate action plans, and do your best to work towards them. And when you attain your goals, you can feel happier and more fulfilled.
Well-being is multi-dimensional. It is a combination of, and a balance between, all of these five elements. While the P (positive emotions) might be what first comes to your mind when you think of well-being, there’s not one single element that defines it. Each factor in the PERMA Model can play a role in your mental health. Having a balance among the five is what can help you eventually enjoy better well-being, a healthier mental state, and most importantly, a flourishing life.
All of the content on our website is thoroughly researched to ensure that the information shared is evidence-based. For more information, please visit the academic journals and other resources that influenced this article: Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being; Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being - Reviewed by Winton Bates; Teaching the Science of Human Flourishing, Unlocking Connection, Positivity, and Resilience for the Greater Good; 12 Ways to Flourish; Martin Seligman Biography; The Emotions That Make Us More Creative; Positive Emotions and Your Health; Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Biography; S.M.A.R.T. Goals.
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