We all want to be happy. When we're happy, we're productive, we're good at building meaningful relationships with those around us, and... we feel great!
However, happiness is a notoriously difficult thing to pin down, and by focusing on it too intensely, we can end up feeling unfulfilled.
In this article we'll look at the PERMA Model. This helps us think about what we need to do to flourish – and be really happy as a result!
About the Model
The PERMA Model was developed by respected positive psychologist, Martin Seligman, and was widely published in his influential 2011 book, "Flourish."
"PERMA" stands for the five essential elements that should be in place for us to experience lasting well-being. These are:
1. Positive Emotion (P)
For us to experience well-being, we need positive emotion in our lives. Any positive emotion such as peace, gratitude, satisfaction, pleasure, inspiration, hope, curiosity, or love falls into this category – and the message is that it's really important to enjoy yourself in the here and now, just as long as the other elements of PERMA are in place.
2. Engagement (E)
When we're truly engaged in a situation, task, or project, we experience a state of flow: time seems to stop, we lose our sense of self, and we concentrate intensely on the present.
This feels really good! The more we experience this type of engagement, the more likely we are to experience well-being.
3. Positive Relationships (R)
As humans, we are "social beings," and good relationships are core to our well-being. Time and again, we see that people who have meaningful, positive relationships with others are happier than those who do not. Relationships really do matter!
4. Meaning (M)
Meaning comes from serving a cause bigger than ourselves. Whether this is a specific deity or religion, or a cause that helps humanity in some way, we all need meaning in our lives to have a sense of well-being.
5. Accomplishment/Achievement (A)
Many of us strive to better ourselves in some way, whether we're seeking to master a skill, achieve a valuable goal, or win in some competitive event. As such, accomplishment is another important thing that contributes to our ability to flourish.
Using the PERMA Model
Once you're aware of the things that make up well-being (instead of focusing on happiness alone), it's much easier to live a rich, meaningful life.
Let's look at how you can do this.
Although we can't be happy all the time, we need to make sure that we often experience positive emotions such as pleasure, happiness, contentment, peace, joy, and inspiration.
If you feel you're not experiencing enough positive emotions in your life, stop and think about why.
First, look at your career. Do you get to use your talents and strengths in your current role?
If you're not sure what your strengths are, our article on Your Reflected Best Self can help. You can also take the StrengthsFinder test to discover your top five strengths, and you can do a Personal SWOT Analysis.
Also, take a moment to identify people, events, or things that give you pleasure. For example, imagine you love being outdoors, surrounded by nature, but working in an office means you rarely get to experience this source of happiness. Why not bring plants into your office or cubicle?
The aim here is to find ways to bring positive emotions and enjoyment into your daily routine, and to ensure that you don't keep on putting these things off into a future... that never quite arrives.
Do you feel engaged in your career? Or do you pursue hobbies and activities that help you slip into the state of flow we talked about earlier?
Engagement is most closely identified with the act of creation, but you can also experience deep engagement when participating in sports, spending time with friends, or working on projects that you're fascinated with.
You can increase your engagement at work by first minimizing distractions and improving concentration. These help you slip into a state of flow. Then, as far as you can, focus on projects that provide an interesting challenge for your skills.
Next, look at your interests. Do you make enough time for personal interests such as a favorite hobby or physical activity? Many of us let this important personal time slip away, especially when we're stressed or overloaded with work. Try to devote plenty of time to activities that make you feel happy and engaged.
Do you have positive relationships in your life? These can be with anyone: family, friends, neighbors, or colleagues. Do you wish you had more of these relationships?
You probably spend the majority of your waking hours at work, so it's important to build good work relationships.
Next, look at your personal life. Do you enjoy the company of your family and friends, and do you find that they're positive and supportive?
If not, then it's important to take the time to understand why. Are you devoting enough time to strengthening these relationships? And do you need to make more of an effort to reach out to your friends and family?
Make a commitment to spend significant time with a friend or family member on a regular basis. Relationships take engagement and hard work, and they're often strengthened only when we make an effort to connect with other people. On the other hand, you can't do much to change people: if your relationships aren't positive, how far should you seek to preserve them?
Do you feel that your life and work has meaning? That is, do you feel that you're connected in some way to a cause bigger than yourself?
Most of us want to believe that we're working and living for a greater purpose. So finding meaning is important to our overall sense of well-being. To find more meaning in your career, read our article on Working with Purpose and Creating Job Satisfaction.
It's just as important to look for meaning in your personal life – certain activities, such as spending time with our family, volunteering, or performing acts of kindness can really improve our sense of meaning in life. If you feel your own life is lacking meaning, do these things – you'll find them hugely satisfying.
Accomplishment and achievement might be the trickiest elements of PERMA, simply because it's very easy to take them too far.
For instance, in many societies, achievement is highly valued, and, if we're not busy, it can seem that we're not living up to expectations and living a full life. However, if we continually push ourselves, we can easily "run ourselves ragged" in pursuit of the next achievement.
If you suspect you're not devoting enough time or energy to accomplishing your dreams, then start now.
First, identify what you truly want to accomplish in life. Our Life Plan Workbook will help you discover what you'd love most to do in your life, and Success Programming can help you affirm the successful future you're working towards.
If you feel that you're devoting too much time towards your achievements (and thereby throwing the rest of your life out of balance), then it might be time to pull back and focus on other elements of the PERMA Model. You can use Ben-Shahar's Happiness Model, the Life Career Rainbow and The Wheel of Life to help you find a better life balance.
The PERMA Model is a well-being theory developed by positive psychologist Marin Seligman. It identifies five essential elements to well-being. These are:
- Positive Emotions (P).
- Engagement (E).
- Positive Relationships (R).
- Meaning (M).
- Achievement/Accomplishment (A).
By focusing on all five of these elements, we can flourish in life, and find the happiness we want. As such, PERMA gives us the starting point for living a great life!