As a counselor, I heard many clients say “I want to be happier, I truly do; I just don’t know what I need to do to get there”. We assume that there is one magic tool that will make us happy in all aspects of our life, but in reality we need to flip that triangle. It is not about us learning how to support our entire life; it is about us knowing how our entire life can support us. Think about the many aspects of your life that you tend to every day: self-growth, relationships, work, community, leisure and many other factors that are associated with well-being, just how do we bring all of these together in ways that we can navigate the world to our happiness? This has been an underlying question in the field of Positive Psychology for many years. It is hard to pin down an exact formula when searching to find a path to either a happy life or a happier life; none of us will take the exact same path.
Over the years, research has studied the related factors that include nature set point, life conditions, subjective level of happiness, fulfillment, desire, chosen enhancing activities, and many more. While these are reasonable influences, they don’t give us connective elements of how we can reach into our backpacks and identify the functions of each tool that makes the journey easier, more exciting, more fulfilling or more memorable. In Dr. Martin Seligman’s 2011 book Flourish, we can find the detailed account of the influencing tools that when carefully packed away and used along the journey can create the experience that leads to a happy or happier life. PERMA is an action oriented model that embraces the ingredient factors as choices and actions we make and implement to create our own unique path of happiness. 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
As you read through each of these elements, be thinking about what each one means to you and how you use each one to create happiness in your life; if you do at all.
(P) Positive Emotion
(R) Positive Relationships
Positive emotions relates to how we feel and evaluate our own level of happiness. But something has to happen for us to get to the level we want to experience. For example; do you know what truly makes you happy? Can you get up on a given day and know the action you can put in place to make your day more meaningful or fulfilling? Perhaps it is something as small as saying “I am going to call my best friend today because I know that is a source I can rely on to boost my spirt”.
Engagement is the state of being absorbed in activities and the things we love to do in life. Engagement could certainly absorb us to the depth of FLOW, but it can also be the conscious ability to be mindful of being in the moment and being grateful for what has crossed our path that day: a fun conversation, an opportune moment to help another person, a child’s tea party, a game of chess in the park, joyous moments with family or friends; walking into life, absorbing the influencing feeling and emotions that was evoked from each second engaged in activities you enjoyed.
Relationships are tricky because we can’t always avoid certain relationships, but we can chose to seek out, and to overwhelmingly make positive relationships the stronghold in our life. Positive authentic relationships give us the ability to be strong for others, to be weak and to accept strength in others, to put our love on line and know that we can trust that our relationships will grow stronger over time. Mindful relationships are not just those who we form deep bonds but also those who enhance out everyday life. I used to go to my favorite “treasure thrift store” and could not wait to hear stories about a new grandchild, family event or artistic endeavor from the greeter at the door. To this day, I don’t know his last name, but he provided a contagious smile and aura of invitation and expression of sharing the small joys in life; a true human connection if you will.
Meaning is one of those terms that can seem so gigantic in the world around us it becomes scary when we compare ourselves to Mother Teresa, the Dahlia Lama or Gandhi; they found a grand meaning in life whereby each day lived fueled their meaning. However, meaning and finding purpose does not have to be the construct of a fully arranged puzzle, but can purely be how we add one piece at a time to develop our sense of meaning uniquely and find purpose in what we do each day, each hour, each moment. Someday I get up and I know my purpose, I feel it, I see it and I engage in it, but other days purpose finds me and asks that I be the provider of the smile, the mentor, the friend etc. Grand meaning experiences are the phenomena that put us in awe of our life; we look down and see the completed picture. Building meaning is a sense that each day, or with each experience, we are arranging shards of mirror that over time reflect what becomes a completed and fulfilling meaning of our life.
Achievement is an associate with a sense of satisfying accomplishment, with satisfying being the operative word. We can accomplish many things in our life, and we can be great at many things, but the summative results don’t always produce an outcome of “satisfying” accomplishment. Satisfying accomplishment produces an intrinsic feeling whereby by we connect to the feeling gratitude of being able to produce such an outcome. Accomplishment can be realized by how we enhance the lives of friends and family, how we communicate to instill resilience and esteem in children, how we view yourself as a person in the world, and how we affect the world in ways that leave a positive legacy for a single person or for the world.
In the next five sections of this blog, we will address each of these elements in depth; stay tuned to this blog-sting for more information on PERMA
‘We are The Positive Psychology People’
1 Seligaman, M.E.P. (2011). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. New York, NY: Published by Free Press.