PERMA – M is for Meaning.
The forth element of the PERMA model focuses on meaning (M). Specifically, how one finds meaning in their life and how it relates to being part of a “good life”. Meaning is like the threads that bind and riddle a quilt to hold large and small pieces together; they can be thick and strong to hold the layers, or they can be thin and patterned to accent the created piece. Thus far this string of blogs elaborating on PERMA has highlighted Positive Emotion, Engagement, and Positive Relationships; left are Meaning and Accomplishment/Achievement1 . As we get into these last to elements of PERMA it is important to point out that these elements are subjective and can only be defined in relation to happiness or well-being by the individual (that’s you). As we explore this element, think about how you define meaning in your life. Does it have to be an all-inclusive effort that defines your entire life? — laser-beam “M”, or is your meaning found in the trail of bread crumbs left each day? — fireworks “m”.
Now the trick here is to bridge how meaning becomes part of a good life, well-being and happiness. First, ask yourself if you can be happy without searching for meaning, is that possible? I know I can, a few years back I received an unexpected check from a colleague who was grateful I had covered a few courses in the event of a schedule conflict. The check was nice and I left happy, but the check did not provide any real meaning for me. It just so happened this was around the holidays and so I cashed the check and bought several holiday meals for families in need; that provided true meaning as I could help take away stress and add to the experience of a family enjoying the day together. The idea is to find ways of being in this world that connect one’s self to something extraordinary and bigger than tending to one’s own needs and desires. From a literal stand point of the word “meaning” we can find words and phrases such as: to bring, to produce, intent, purpose, the significance of something, importance, and probably a few more. So gathering all these up and looking at meaning, the general notion is that it is something in life that one produces of personal worth or importance that is of significance.
In some cases we find that there are those who quickly find a “higher” calling in life, a passion, feel drawn to focus their life efforts on one goal they feel is worthy of their time and effort endlessly. Every ounce of what they take in from mindfully assessing needs is channeled into a laser beam that guides their meaning or purpose in life. For example, if I were to ask you about Mother Teresa, Gandhi or the Dalai Lama, it is a pretty safe bet that you would describe Mother Teresa and one who devoted her life to caring for others; Gandhi, to be a voice of equality for all and the need for change in the world; and the Dalai Lama to be an educational leader and role model of compassion to bring people together through human kindness and spirituality. This type of meaning, the laser-beam “M” is a continuous engagement in purpose that drives one to live and be one with the higher calling throughout life.
On the other hand, not everyone can precisely put their finger on their meaning in life. In some cases, attempting to seek a laser-beam meaning can cause stress to an individual. So how then can meaning be found and experienced? If you have ever been to a fireworks show you might have anticipated one burst after the other, lighting up the sky gloriously with different shapes, colors and trickling of sparkly lights; each one providing a uniquely different experience. If you do not feel as if you associate with laser-beam meaning, you can find refuge in the idea that you might be more associated with the fireworks type of meaning; this meaning comes from the acts that happen randomly or purposely, are experienced and drift away until the next meaningful event. Viktor Frankl is probably the most renowned leader is the exploration of meaning. In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, he challenges each and every person to accept responsibility for their own happiness and to find meaning in acts of being human both in good and bad times .
A famous quote from Viktor Frankl
‘We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.’
This quote highlights the ability of one to choose actions that affect others in situations that bring humans together; it connects them in some sort of meaniful way. To find meaning in life, you might not have to go further than your front door, the local grocery store, or just be out in the community. Meaningful experiences can be created each time you chose to make a meaningful experience. Dr. Frankl further discusses how one can nurture or develop a sense of meaning through creativity. Creativity is not only associated with the skill of drawing or the arts, but how you move through the world and how you un-veil yourself though expression; of love, of hope, of compassion, of joy etc. It is a way we connect with other on large scales (comment an entire life to a meaning) or on small scales that allows us to follow our intuition and to appreciate and immerse ourselves in the moment.
[1 ] Seligman, M.E.P. (2011). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. New York, NY: Published by Free Press.
 Frankl, V. E. (1984). Man’s search for meaning: An introduction to logotherapy. New York: Simon & Schuster.