The PERMA Model in Positive Psychology

No, not a Perm Model.

I’m currently making my way through Flourish, by Martin Seligman. In this book, Martin shares how his initial work in positive psychology was missing some key elements to help build it as a discipline. He defines his new approach as the PERMA model. He argues that each element should be such that it is self-definable, and that in the absence of the other elements is objectively measurable.

P – Positive Emotion

This is where we take the time to understand how we experience positive emotions, what a genuine expression of those emotions means, and we understand what experiences help us feel those. In feeling these emotions we cultivate a better sense of wellbeing about ourselves. In expressing these positive emotions to others, it helps us to build stronger relationships and connectedness. In understanding what experiences help us feel those moments, we can build and seek to fulfil ourselves with actions that are meaningful to us.

E – Engagement

Many of us may know of the feeling of being in a state where we undertake an activity and we come out of it not realising the time has passed, feel energised, feel as if we’ve been productive and we lose our sense of self. Some may call this a sense of ‘flow’ or being ‘in the moment’. I think this is one of the harder facets of positive psychology that we can learn about. It means having to think of an activity which allows us to do this. For some, this may be such an infrequent act that it’s hard to think it happens at all. When we can find such an activity, though, is when we further build skills, knowledge, experience, enjoyment and we feel no pressure or judgement in what the output is.

R – Relationships

People are fundamentally social creatures. We seek out human contact in some form no matter our preference or our ability for human contact. Sure some people are better at forming and having relationships than others, and that’s not in question. We know that when we have the right relationships with others, it provides a fulfilled feeling, we feel supported and we feel belonged. When we experience these relationships it strengthens our resilience, helps provide some much needed support, and helps us define what we are and not capable of. These don’t have to be personal or intimate relationships – but they do need to be positive in nature.

Interestingly, work done in this area shows that when we express appreciation of our partners, a ratio of 5 positive statements to 1 negative is an indication of a healthy relationship. Below this ratio and it’s likely to be positive but hard to appreciate the good. If the ratio is too high, it’s probably hiding that the relationship has problems which aren’t being discussed. If the ratio swings the other way with higher negative, then this means the relationship will quite likely fall apart.

In the workplace that initial ratio drops to 3:1.

M – Meaning

There’s a lot written about finding meaning in the work we do. For a lot of people, that’s hard to do because it’s just not a mindset we’ve been taught is necessary to have. For most people, you just do what you do, and you try and do it well. When you think wider than work, though, a lot of people are involved in activities that help them find meaning with others. When we carry out activities that help us find meaning in the act itself, and often when it involves helping other people, is when we experience lasting feelings of positivity. It’s why communities come together, it’s why religious people enjoy each others company, it’s why volunteers offer their time freely. Having meaning can be manifest in so many ways that it’s hard to be brief in writing about it.

A – Accomplish

When we complete a task, and we do it according to our personal standards, that feeling of accomplishment is important. We place a lot of importance on big events – passing our exams, gaining a degree, landing a job, getting married, having kids, getting a bonus, buying a home, getting your first car, losing weight, getting fit. No matter how big or small a task is, when it’s complete we feel good about it. The learning, practise, development, and execution of the task means that (provided it’s something we enjoyed doing) we’re likely to want to get better at it so that we can improve the next opportunity we find to do that task again.

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