PERMA – E is for Engagement

Let’s talk about the E of PERMA. To recap the umbrella of PERMA, PERMA is the acronym for the five vital elements that accompany the journey: These include: (P) Positive Emotion; (E) Engagement; (R) Positive Relationships; (M) Meaning; and (A) Accomplishment/Achievement [1]

The last blog discussed the importance and meaning behind positive emotion (the P in PERMA). There was also a reference to knowing what actions you can put into motion to generate happiness or positive meaningful experiences in life, and so we come to (E) engagement. Engagement can be deep states in which we purposely create an extended period of time that includes a passion such as a hobby, a technique or a skill, and commitment to performance. This is just one aspect of engagement as engagement is not limited to long-term binding activities. Engagement can be a choice to engage in life; perhaps the decision to reach others—the quick decision to tell the gentleman you are passing “hey, great tie”, and in an instance you have changed a person’s mood, and in many cases received an acknowledgment back; changing your state as well.

Why is engagement so import to well-being and happiness, and what does it mean to engage? As it might appear on paper the action of engagement can appear to be simplistic. The truth is, we are often overwhelmed by the automatic assembly line of life and often the things we can “engage in” are the first things to get dumped from the line-up. Perhaps you can relate to one or more of these statements: “I used to love to…but I don’t have time anymore”; “I remember loving to do that when I was younger, I can’t remember why I stopped”; “there just never seems to be enough time in the day for anything other than work”; “I wish I had more time to…”; “It would be so great to be able to …”. These are all indicator statements that literally speak the voice of yearning to engage and reconnect to joys, to loves, to enjoyment and to passions. Part of the longevity of engagement is the reality of life and how we manage it.

Additionally, when reading about PERMA and the definition of engagement, you are most likely to run into a paralleling description of engagement and FLOW. Flow, as described, being a state of emersion of one’s self in an activity where time seems to stop; an activity that challenges one just enough to hold attention. I challenge this definition as it is constricting to idea that a person must find “that task” and take the time to fully engage; shutting out the rest of the world and focusing on the personal experience of being in FLOW. Engagement cannot be defined constrictively by one act but rather that the act of being attentive to action of being engaged whereby there is participation and involvement; easy language please—we are awake, we are devoting attention and we are interacting purposely. The reason I bring this up is that the all or nothing phenomenon often lurks as we read or think to ourselves “gee, I could benefit from that, but with school, work family and all my other responsibilities there is no way I will have that sort of time to engage; oh well, maybe next year”. Because we feel we don’t fit the definition we dismiss looking from a different perspective.

One of my students’ experienced this perfectly this week by telling me that they were disappointed with the weekly assignment which was to showcase something creative that was meaningful to them. The student’s issue was that she was not creative (could not paint a masterpiece) and really did not find FLOW in anything. To show me that she was a free and independent thinking, she went ahead and showcased what she described as “just something fun”; cooking. The description included how she just love to cook for and with her family; how she loved when her children helped, and how at the end of it all they sat as a family and enjoyed the beautifully prepared meal.

Perhaps with kids in tow or deadlines to meat; the hustle and bustle of life whirling around us at times we don’t see simple daily experiences as opportunities for engagement, but every few seconds we have the opportunity to engage, to make one minute or one day an experience that enriches or enhances our lives. The action part of engagement is not something we have to have schematic plans for, but rather to be open to and willing to initiate, create, and savor experiences that fuel our inner (and outer) wellbeing.

[1] Seligman, M.E.P. (2011). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. New York, NY: Published by Free Press.

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