Seligman’s Moonshot Goal

In Martin Seligman’s seminal book, Flourish, he concludes with what I like to see as his sigh of the soul. He talks of when he was at the first World Congress of the IPPA in 2009 and James Pawelski posed this question: “What vision can we articulate that is as grand and inspiring as John Kennedy’s of putting a man on the moon? What is our moon shot? What is the long mission of positive psychology?” (see Flourish, p. 238)

He then talks about how some of the most brilliant positive psychologists have come up with ways to measure human flourishing and suggests that our moonshot goal will be to not only measure flourishing, but to engender more of it.

He then states: “By the year 2051, 51 percent of the people of the world will be flourishing.” (see Flourish, p. 240). He calls this goal PERMA 51.

Half the World Flourishing: Breaking it Down

This truly is a moonshot goal. Just think of it for a minute. This book was published in 2011. Here we are at the end of 2016. That gives us less than 35 years to accomplish this task. Let’s break it down further.

In 2011, the world’s population had just hit the 7 billion mark. As of August 2016 the world’s population was estimated at 7.4 billion. By the year 2050 the UN states that the median estimates see the world’s population to reach 9.725 billion. (this article from Wikipedia) Add the average increase of about 286 million per year and you have the number 10.011 billion people. Divide that by 34.25 and we get 292 million people per year who need to be measurably flourishing.

That’s 24.3 million per month.

811,924 per day.

33,830 per hour.

563 per minute

How Many Are Flourishing Now?

If population growth projections prove to be true, approximately nine more people need to be measurably flourishing every available second from this moment until the year 2051! That’s a lot of people! The good thing is that these numbers assume that no one in the world is flourishing currently and this is simply not the case.

Researchers at Penn’s Positive Psychology Center have been trying to come up with this number. An interesting body of research is emerging from Lyle Ungar, Andy Schwartz and Johannes Eichstaedt called the World Well Being Project aims to measure the world’s well-being in near real-time. They have started by categorizing over 150 million tweets and over 300,000 Facebook statuses. Each of the words in the status are PERMA-coded for overall well-being or the lack thereof. To follow this fascinating research, visit the World Well Being Project. I hope to see more good come out of this research that will help us to see where the world stands with regards to overall well-being and how far we have to go.

So How Will We Do It?

Martin Seligman lists all the ways he sees it happening in Flourish. He mentions psychologists in one-on-one coaching or therapy sessions. He mentions teachers who implement well-being into education. He mentions teaching resilience in the army: better soldiers become better citizens. He mentions positive business where success won’t just be about profit, but also about better relationships and meaning. He says that government needs to be a part of the movement so that decisions are made not only to increase GDP, but also the well-being of the governed. Finally he says that it will be aided “perhaps crucially–by positive computing.”

I have spoken with other prominent positive psychologists about PERMA 51. Barry Schwartz thought benefit corporations (B corps) were on the rise which will greatly affect positive business. Michelle Gielan seems to believe that it will come by transforming journalism to be solutions-based rather than constantly negative. I asked Ed Diener if PERMA 51 was possible and though he didn’t say how, he said he was very optimistic that it was.

Chewbacca Masks and PERMA? Well-being needs to go viral

I found myself sitting across a table from Marty Seligman in November 2015. He was staring at me with a look of “why don’t I recognize your face?” I was a last-minute guest to a presentation on the neuroscience of aesthetics and the arts. I also sat across from Angela Duckworth and to the right of James Pawelski. After the presentation, I had the pleasure of catching Marty in the hall on his way out. I introduced myself and told him that I wanted to use the power of social media to broadcast positive psychology to the world. I told him that I believed that we needed to take full advantage of the power of social media influencers (individuals and businesses) to evangelize positive psychology. He listened intently, though I could tell he was in a hurry. After I told him my ideas, the first words that came out of his mouth were “PERMA 51.” I felt validated, yet unresolved.

On May 19, 2016, Candace Payne put on a Chewbacca mask in her car and got 161 million people to laugh with her. That’s the kind of virility we need to get PERMA into the minds of people. We need PERMA to go viral on social media, not just once, but constantly. It needs to start setting trends. It needs to be in the air. A zeitgeist of PERMA needs to be spreading year after year on all the social media giants. I believe PERMA needs to be infused by individual therapists, educators, businesses, military and government like Seligman says. I also believe that each one of these is in some way driven by technology and technology is driven by social trends.

And this too will help PERMA cross the borders. Can social media help us to change behavior in significant ways? Ask Julius Yego, the Kenyan Olympic silver medalist who learned to throw javelin by watching YouTube videos.

If you read this blog, you already have the vision and you are a part of it. Not only do I believe that PERMA 51 is possible, but I see it as a part of my mission in life. In future posts I will write more about how social media influencers can infuse PERMA into their content strategies in ways that will boost engagement. My hope is that we can all work together in all our various orbits to make PERMA 51 a reality. Do you think it’s possible? I’d love to hear your response in the comments below.

About the Author: Andy Proctor is the number one positive psychology broadcaster on Periscope and has taught thousands of live students about the science of happiness and human flourishing. After he graduated from BYU, he was published in the journal Mindfulness for his work on the first standardized Implicit Association Test (IAT). He worked with Stanford researchers to create this tool and it has been used by over 15 universities worldwide. He is the author of Live Your Mission, a book that helps you find more meaning through discovery of your unique life purpose. His personal website:


‘We are the Positive Psychology People’

Find out more about positive psychology courses and training at 

Share This