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The PERMA Model: A Theory of Happiness and Wellbeing

Published on 24 August 2018|
2 min read

The PERMA model is made up of five simple elements for practising positive psychology to turn your life around.

by Emily Mary Chin, Carrybeans

Are you unsatisfied with your career?  Having trouble cultivating interpersonal relationships?  Struggling with finding purpose?  Losing control of your life?  Feeling lost?  Depressed?  All of the above?

If so, you may be able to turn it all around, with just a slight shift in perception.

The PERMA model was designed and conceptualised by Martin Seligman as his ‘theory of well-being’.  It consists of five elements that measures a person’s overall happiness, but also functions as a tool for finding purpose and fulfilment in that person’s life as well.

The PERMA Model

Positive Emotion

When assessing yourself using the PERMA model, the first element requires you to take a look at your emotions.  A question you may ask yourself is: what emotions do you feel on a regular basis?  Do you have certain patterns that your emotions tend to cycle through?  If so, what are they?

Once you’ve gauged your emotional patterns, you can then gauge where the positive emotions lie within those patterns.  And if there are none, you can focus in on each one of the negative emotions, instead, and from there, find ways to deviate from that cycle in a more positive direction.

Engagement

The engagement element refers to how immersed you are in your daily activities.  Though not everything in our lives will naturally get our full attention or interest, there must be aspects of our lives that do.  This engagement usually comes from doing activities that you love or are good at.  Some people find it in their work, in reading a book, in doing a sport, or in watching a movie.

Credit: Priscilla Du Preez

When you are fully engaged in an activity, you find happiness and fulfilment in that present moment.  And doing little things every day that engage you will not only boost happiness but also intelligence, both mental and emotional.

Relationships

The relationships element stresses the importance of meaningful and intimate relationships.  We, as humans,  are naturally social creatures, no matter our level of introversion or extroversion.  We need strong physical and emotional bonds in order to thrive.

When assessing this element, you will be able to gauge who the important people in your life are and the kind of interactions that are most meaningful to you.  In life, we sometimes don’t choose our social situations as much as our career or environment dictates so.  Being able to pinpoint what kind of interaction most fulfils you will, in turn, help you to cut out the interactions and relationships that drain you.

Meaning

True fulfilment does not come from the pursuit of pleasure or material wealth, but from the ability to find purpose and meaning in your life.  This ability requires you to look at the bigger picture of your life and what it contributes to society.  Your job, for instance, could feel menial at times.  But it feels less so when you realise its function and contribution to the overall whole of the company.

Meaning, then, does not necessarily come from grand, landmark life events.  It, instead, comes from a simple belief in something bigger than yourself.  When you believe that your life contributes to something greater than yourself, your life becomes more meaningful.

Accomplishments

The last element in the PERMA model states that an important factor in happiness is setting and achieving goals.  Achieving goals gives a sense of accomplishment which, in turn, builds self esteem and encourages further and bigger goal setting.  This kick-starts a positive cycle of feeling validated while also driven to do more.

Credit: Pexels

Goals don’t necessarily have to be big, life-changing ones either.  Setting small goals, like drinking eight glasses of water in a day, and then succeeding in doing so is equally as important to a person’s well-being.  The point is to set opportunities for yourself to grow.

It’s all interlinked

As you make your way down the PERMA model, you’ll notice that it gets harder to differentiate between the elements the further down the list you get.  A healthy and fulfilling relationship could bring meaning and accomplishment to your life as well.  Feelings of accomplishment bring meaning and positive emotion into your life.  Full engagement in an activity does more or less the same.

The reason is that when you are able to find positive aspects in at least one of the five elements, it will leak in and influence other aspects of your life too.  Happiness is infectious!

It’s all a state of mind

The PERMA model invokes feelings of gratitude to remind the self-assessor of the value their life holds.  By highlighting their accomplishments, their purpose, their meaningful relationships, and their most engaging moments, they inevitably come to recognise and appreciate them as things worth living for.

But remember, happiness is not the pursuit of pleasure of but the pursuit of a meaningful and engaging life.  There is meaning and merit in even life’s darkest of days and the PERMA model encourages you to find them.  It won’t solve your problems for you, but maybe it will shift your thoughts into a slightly different light.

Take the questionnaire yourself and see how the PERMA model works for you.

Sign up at University of Pennsylvania’s Authentic Happiness website for positive psychology to do your own PERMA assessment online!

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