The PERMA Model: Bringing Well-Being and Happiness to Your Life
Happiness is one of the most important parts of human life, and it is something that we all strive towards.
But what does the term happiness mean, and what are the most important aspects of it?
The road itself is though, but what if there was something that could potentially help us?
THE EXPLANATION OF THE PERMA MODEL
The PERMA model comes from a desire to help people figure out the fundamentals of happiness.
By doing that, people can focus on finding their happiness and well-being in a much easier, thoughtful and planned out way.
The term PERMA itself originated from a book written by an American psychologist Martin Seligman, who is believed to be the man who founded the principles of positive psychology.
His book, called Flourish, was put out in 2011 and in it Martin represents the PERMA model as groundwork for attaining happiness and well-being.
Furthermore, this model wasn’t created just for the individuals who are aiming to accomplish a life of contentment and bliss, but can also be applied in institutions in order to establish a number of programs and plans that help people in determining and using a few new mental and emotional skills.
PERMA is an acronym that is an abbreviation of five –as stated by Martin- key principles that everybody should be aware of in order to achieve their goals regarding happiness, fulfillment and well-being – Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishments.
Along with that, Martin Seligman points out that each principle of well-being and happiness is required to have three attributes singularly, particularly:
- Every principle has to add to well-being and happiness;
- All principles are equally crucial;
- Every principle has to be established and estimated independently from the other elements.
We will delve into examining each of the five core elements below.
As mentioned above, the first letter of the acronym, the letter P, stands for positive emotion, something that is pretty self-evident in a person or the world around us.
By having positive feelings and just being plain optimistic we can not only improve our state of mind and body, but can also improve the feelings of people around us, which would in return, again, make us happier.
The phrase “happiness is contagious” may be regarded as cliché, but it is the truth.
Nobody ever said that being optimistic is an easy task, it actually can be a pretty constant effort and, depending on the individual, might be really tough at first.
However, the end result is more than worth it and as we begin to feel the consequences of taking our happiness into our own hands we realize that perhaps this isn’t so bad after all.
Being optimistic is a trait that is considered to encourage resilience when we are being faced with hardship.
In order to be more in touch with our inner contentment we must always be the person who looks at the glass as if it is half full.
That being said, being optimistic doesn’t just mean putting on a smile.
In a speech that Martin Seligman delivered in 2012, he emphasizes that we should never mistake positive emotion with a smiley face.
He continues to say that smiling, being cheerful, merry and happy are, of course, the key elements of positive psychology but that, essentially, we can’t be happy all the time.
However, some researches claim that just the act of smiling can put us in a better mood, whether that smile is fake or not.
Also, he mentions there are two things that we need to know about cheerfulness.
One is that it is normally distributed in the universe, which – according to him – means that there are many people out there who are currently not experiencing happiness.
To put it simply, the world has to be in balance. The second thing that we need to know about cheerfulness is that it is highly genetically based.
Some researches confirm that it is up to 50% heritable.
That being said, even if you feel like you didn’t inherit much of that cheerfulness you shouldn’t lose hope.
Positive psychology exists to help, even if it doesn’t sound so effortless.
In addition to this, just having an optimistic outlook on life can have a lot of health benefits for us.
For years, it was known that optimism is a strong force impacting our body.
On the other side, pessimistic people tend to be more stressed out and make others feel the same.
For example, you might have someone in your workplace who treats everything with urgency and you don’t know how to fix the emotion that you feel transitioning onto you, and that’s even worse for your productivity.
When we look at our life from a positive perspective we are more likely to be healthier and live longer.
The cardiovascular system of optimistic individuals is stronger, and so is their immune system. They tend to be less stressed out and also feel less pain.
They recover faster from setbacks in their life and feel like they have better relationships, which helps them go through difficulties that they are facing with more ease.
Without a doubt, being positive is helping both our physical and mental health.
All that being said, experiencing positive emotions like joy, comfort and happiness is a crucial step in the process of making our life better.
We have to let ourselves enjoy our lives in order to reach our goals.
Even if we feel hopeless on multiple levels, we have to learn to be peaceful despite the fact that it appears like there is no way for things to get better.
Actively choosing to feel joy in the moments when we just feel helpless is one of the many stepping stones towards true contentment.
As some people would say, in order to be happy later, we have to be happy now.
In addition to the above-mentioned experience of positive emotions, engagement is another essential fraction of the PERMA model.
In this case, the term engagement implies the person’s inclination to immerse oneself fully in activities that they are currently executing.
Being immersed in an engaging activity can make us so present in the moment and in that particular task that we forget the world around us.
For us, as human beings, it’s completely normal to have a desire for full engagement in our everyday lives.
This kind of feeling helps us to remain present even during the tasks that we consider to be not so interesting, as just being there in your life and feeling devoted toward something can bring you joy, focus and peacefulness.
By executing our activities with devotion and responsibility we are making ourselves proud and content.
Engagement, just like positive emotion, is a subjective feeling and each individual fully experiences it alone, but there are always people out there who might share feelings about certain activities with us.
Undoubtedly, being fully immersed in a task is a good thing for our state of mind.
Some researches show that being bored can lead to a lot of other physical and mental problems.
Although this varies from person to person, everybody has an activity that they are completely engaged in.
These are the tasks that bring us enormous happiness and can calm our minds.
Have you ever felt absolutely absorbed in a book, or a movie? Have you ever felt as if time is flying every time you do something that brings you joy?
That feeling is likely because you reached the state of so-called flow.
Even though we feel like the hours are going by at a really fast pace, engagement is a good thing. Engagement is a crucial factor in making us feel happy and peaceful.
Human beings can find engagement in many different ways.
Some play sports, some play instruments. Some people enjoy reading books or painting.
Having a hobby or a project that we are interested in is what keeps us going through the day.
The tasks that make us lose the sense of time and that fully absorb us are fully individual and are something that we should take time to do despite other peoples feeling about it.
The important thing is that everybody has a way to escape the world even for a little and look into themselves for a while, which is a vital gateway to experiencing happiness now and later in life.
If we find our individual and captivating activity and commit a certain amount of time to it each day, we will soon see results in the way we handle our feelings and the world around us.
It should also be noted that being fully engaged in something should make us feel joyful and actually give us emotional and maybe even physical energy to keep going.
Having engaging activities in our everyday routine can help us on many levels, including physical, mental and emotional.
One of the many benefits, despite the fact that being engaged in a task can sometimes be pretty hard, is that we are awarded with becoming more productive in general.
While being engaged in an activity we operate at our best and feel less stressed out by some other factors.
By letting ourselves enjoy the time spent being completely devoured by our passions we are also improving our intelligence in every possible way, increasing our skills and becoming more emotionally competent.
The third aspect of the PERMA model is relationships, specifically positive ones.
Our relationships with the people and the world around us are crucial for our brains in a completely organic way.
First and foremost, humans are extremely social beings.
Our craving for connections to people is extremely fascinating. However, that feeling of desire is not completely rootless.
It’s a completely natural urge instilled in our brains after years and years of existing collectively in communities and nations. Humans just aren’t capable of being alone.
That being said, a lot of people seem to think that the road to happiness is a lonely one, and that our achievement of fulfillment is perfectly independent. However, that is not the case.
Becoming a person who is more cheerful and calm is something that can’t be done without good and strong relationships with the people around us.
Look at it this way: does being lonely make us feel good?
Of course not.
Being lonely is a fear that a lot of people have, and that is why we have a natural urge to build lasting relationships with other humans.
Human brains, as a matter of fact, genuinely flourish when it comes to attachments that make us feel love, intimacy and other strong emotions and communication with others.
The proof of that can be Erik Erikson’s theory about the stages of psychological development, where it’s mentioned that our growth depends on social interaction.
That is why it is so important to have positive and even strong relationships with our family, friends, acquaintances and coworkers.
By surrounding ourselves with people who we feel a strong connection to, we are undoubtedly becoming more formidable when we are faced with something that would set us back if we were alone.
We are always stronger in numbers.
Faithfully nurturing relationships that we already have and that make us stronger and happier is an important factor for our well-being.
As well as that, forming new relationships, no matter how fleeting, is also good for our brains and emotional health.
However, we should be aware of relationships that don’t give us strength, because those are taking more toll than we can imagine.
A renowned psychologist by the name of Mitch Prinstein, who teaches a course on the psychology of popularity, explained once the research on parts of the brain that are known as pain centers.
Whenever there is a chance for us to isolate ourselves completely from others, those exact pain centers in our brain become activated and we want to become reconnected once again, which just proves that without others we couldn’t possibly survive.
An example of that is that people, in general, don’t even like going to new places alone because they are scared of being truly lonely.
As stated above, relationships with others and how others see us and feel about us are connected with our view of the world around us.
Namely, optimistic people have better chances of building long, positive and lasting relationships than people who have a different outlook on life.
Being an optimistic and kind person makes others comfortable around us and encourages them to be the same and also build their relationships.
People who are constantly pessimistic can, of course, have friends, but people who they are trying to build a relationship with may not consider them a stable person and a good friend.
Having respect and understanding for others is something that we can always work on and that will make us and the ones around us feel joy.
In conclusion, even though relationships, unlike positive emotions and engagement, are not a completely subjective part of this model, they are all conditioned by each other, and by taking care of these things we will notice a significant improvement in our life.
The fourth element of this model is meaning. In order to be happier we have to have a “meaning of life”, something that keeps us going.
Human beings are the only living creatures capable of pondering about this, and they have been doing that for years.
Having a meaning makes us realize that there are things that are bigger than us alone and by striving towards those things and by aiming our focus on activities that build up that meaning for us we are more content with our place in this world and feel more joy.
However, if you think you don’t know what your meaning in life is don’t worry about it too much.
You will realize what it is without really thinking about it, as it usually isn’t something overly complicated.
Meaning is an extremely subjective principle of the PERMA model, as what it implies really varies from person to person, and even from day to day and minute to minute.
A lot of philosophers tried to answer the question about the meaning of life, and you may consider them to be right, but in the end, none of them are the answers that everybody in the universe can get behind.
The meaning of our life can be anything, and it is usually something bigger than us.
Love is an extremely strong meaning in life.
Parents love their children, so they choose to wake up every day and live not only for themselves, but for others.
Children love their parents, so they take care of them when they grow old. And people love other people, so they help them.
Other ways in which people find meaning are religion and spirituality, and actually, some researches show that people who are religious and find their meaning in that religion are more likely to be content with their choices.
We can also find meaning in a good career, taking care of others and even taking care of ourselves.
Sometimes people try to find meaning in money, but they don’t realize that money is a material thing that won’t make them essentially a happier person.
That being said, financial security brings a person a sense of comfort and by fulfilling that aspect of our lives we will be less stressed and have less anxiety, but we won’t necessarily become somebody filled with joy.
Knowing what makes you get up in the morning and go on with your day is something that will make you more likely to enjoy whatever is it you have to do and it will bring you satisfaction and productivity.
There is nothing better than finishing a task and knowing that there is something bigger that you are working towards and that you are now one step closer to.
In 1992 Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychologist, said that having a meaning is a crucial part of our life. It gives us purpose, makes us develop standards and the ability to judge our behavior and gives us a feeling of control in our lives.
Also, having a meaning in life might as well be connected with our need for optimism in our lives.
Pessimistic people will probably tell you that life doesn’t really have a meaning and in that case, we can see exactly how choosing to have that outlook on life can make your whole existence less than cheerful.
To summarize, having a special meaning or a goal in life means that we become more persistent in reaching our objective. Having a meaning just makes life in general easier.
When we are faced with a task that may be less than enjoyable our goals are what keeps us from giving up on that task.
People who don’t have a meaning in life are statistically more depressed, stressed out and prone to experiencing anxiety and other issues.
Last but not least, we have accomplishment, the fifth element of the PERMA model.
Accomplishment, by definition, is something that was achieved with success.
When we achieve our goal we feel a sense of pride and joy.
This system reminds us of a simple yet important system of reward and punishment, also known as operant conditioning, which we wrote about before.
This factor also connects to the factor of meaning, as having a meaning and ambition helps us achieve our goals and thus makes us happier and more in tune with ourselves.
In addition, by setting goals and achieving them we improve our sense of effectiveness and success, which in turn leads us to set more goals for ourselves that we can accomplish, and that makes us feel cheerful and capable.
The point is to regularly challenge our minds and bodies in order to improve ourselves in every possible way.
When we accomplish goals and set new ones that take us to another level we create a never-ending cycle of fulfillment.
As well as most of the elements of the PERMA model, accomplishment is a subjective feeling.
It helps us improve our performance and develop new skills, but it is something that we can only rely on ourselves for. Nobody can make you more ambitious than yourself.
By setting more goals every day we pave a way for a life of opportunities and productivity.
It is very important to mention that those goals have to actually be realistic and achievable.
The importance of realistic goals is that when we achieve them we feel a sense of confidence and pride and let ourselves reach higher and feel happier.
However, if we set completely non-achievable goals or ones that are really hard to achieve at first, we will just feel miserable, depressed and incapable when we don’t reach them.
A very good example of that are people who set unrealistic New Year’s resolutions.
Once the clock strikes midnight they believe that everything will be easier and that they will go to the gym every day.
That goal is not realistic, and as soon as they skip a couple of days they feel bitter and ruin their confidence, which a hard thing to recover from.
That is why it’s so important to set goals that seem small at first.
Even if at first your goal is to go to the gym once a week, you are still doing better than you did before, and by achieving that seemingly small goal you are letting yourself set goals that challenge you and make you more and more accomplished.
Without a doubt, setting goals for ourselves that we can achieve and learning how to be patient and take time with developing our skills and habits will lead us to satisfaction and motivation to keep going.
By feeling confident in ourselves we will be capable of facing any obstacles in life with more ease.
How can you make the best of the PERMA model and learn how to apply it in your life?
Firstly, now that you are aware of what each part of the PERMA model actually entails you are educated enough to take it to the next level.
That would be slowly implying the PERMA model into your own life.
You should refer to the five key principles listed above as often as possible. You could even write them down on a piece of paper and keep them somewhere visible so that they are regularly on your mind.
Starting with positive emotion, you should find things that make you feel joy and pleasure, and be in touch with those things often.
The stuff that falls into that category can be anything from activities to people, so let yourself enjoy them.
Also, you should always choose to have a positive outlook on life because that will make you happier and healthier in general.
Next, you should make time for activities that make you go into an above-mentioned state of flow.
By finding out what those activities are and letting yourself go you are helping your brain relax and develop at the same time, which will lead you to feel more content.
Taking care of relationships that you currently have and taking time and effort into building them into stronger connections is a must-have on the road to well-being.
You should make time to show people that you care about them and that they hold a special place in your heart because that will improve both of your lives.
Making new friends and meeting new people, in general, will help you feel like you belong to a group, which is something that all humans need to feel.
Remember that only good relationships help you grow, and if you think that some of your connections are not that good for you take the time to wonder why that is and should you even try to make them prosper.
It is also important to take time to figure out what your meaning is, as it will lead you to a life of ambition and confidence in your purpose.
Your meaning can be anything from providing for your family and making them feel good to ending world hunger.
Meanings can change, but it’s important to remember what your goals are when the times are tough.
As mentioned above, to feel more accomplished we have to set realistic goals.
Make yourself aware of what you want to accomplish and start slow. If your goal is to read a book for an hour every day, start small. Your first part of the goal can be to read a book for 10 minutes every day.
After accomplishing that goal for a while and letting yourself fail from time to time, you will build courage and persistence. It’s also important not to overexert yourself when it comes to setting goals, as you don’t want to feel burn out.
The PERMA model is there to help us realize that happiness and well-being aren’t just some abstract feelings that we have no control over, but actual goals that can be achieved.
There are struggles, just as there are everywhere, but the result is completely worth it.
Taking care of ourselves and taking our life into our own hands makes us assertive and peaceful.
If you want to hear more about the PERMA model you can listen to the speech that Martin Seligman gave in 2012.
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