Igniting the Human Positive Condition _ PERMA 

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When I was growing up, I use to hear my mother saying, the car has broken down your father will not be a good company to be with. It took me almost 30 years to understand what my mother was saying. It was the call from my wife, that made me understand my mother’s statement. She said love I have car issues, the car does not want to move. What made things more difficult, was the quotation from the mechanic. This affected most of our plans and other engagement. It was the theory of well-being by Dr Seligman that put things into perspective. The theory of well-being is called PERMA.

PERMA™ Theory of Well-Being

Dr Seligman’s PERMA™ theory of well-being is an attempt to answer these fundamental questions. There are five building blocks that enable flourishing – Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment (hence PERMA™) – and there are techniques to increase each. 

The theory state that different people will derive well-being from each of these five building blocks to varying degrees. A good life for one person is not necessarily a good life for another. There are many different routes to a flourishing life and the five building blocks drive the well-being of life:

  • Positive Emotion

Positive emotion is about feeling good and is obviously the most direct path to being happy. When one feels good, one feels positive. However, such positive emotion doesn’t just stop at someone flashing a great smile because that is something anyone can do or, sadly, fake.

Positive emotion goes beyond that and may even involve acceptance of the past regardless of how bad it was and anticipating positively what the future holds.

However, such emotion does not necessarily mean that the person should be happy 100% of the time because that is impossible. But trying to achieve a positive emotion greatly affects many other aspects of life, such as the other elements found in the PERMA model.

The words pleasure and enjoyment are easily associated with happiness but are mistakenly understood to be equal and the same. Pleasure, according to the model, refers to one’s physical needs being satisfied such as food, shelter, water, clothing, and safety. Enjoyment, on the other hand, is the satisfaction and fulfilment derived from doing something such as painting, cross-stitching, or exploring a car’s engine. When enjoyment is achieved, happiness tags along, too.

  • Engagement

The second element in the PERMA Model is Engagement, which refers to something that an individual can get engrossed with or absorbed in. Almost everybody has experienced getting lost in a book or living in “one’s own world” because of something so engaging. It is actually a very positive thing for a person’s intelligence, emotions, and skills, which is why a child who is busy putting together different Lego parts or piling blocks should be allowed to do so and let be.

Doing something that engages an individual also brings happiness even if it has nothing to do at all with one’s work or if it is deemed by others as silly. For example, a woman in her mid-30’s who loves to play the violin can do so, and while engaged in doing it can momentarily leave the present and live in the music.

  • Relationships

 Relationships are the third element of happiness and well-being, according to the PERMA model. As human beings, it is our natural desire to want to be connected and be part of a group such as a clique, school organization, or a circle. We were wired to not just want but need love, affection, attention, and interaction. It is why people need to create relationships with family, co-workers, friends, and peers, because it is from these groups that we can receive emotional support when things get rough.

A simple yet clear example of the need for belongingness and interaction is when high school girls go together to the comfort room even if only one actually needs to use it.

  • Meaning

Many people wonder why many celebrities who live in multi-million-dollar mansions and go on monthly vacations to the Maldives and the Caribbean end up taking their own lives. What they do not understand is that there is so much more to life than just money and material possessions. Above it all, what makes a person want to live is the meaning they find in their lives.

Parents with young children understand how important they are in their children’s lives and so they work hard to provide for their families. A beautiful lady, though unmarried, is happy because she takes care of her ageing parents. These things are worth more than any amount of money and meaning keeps people happy and persistent.

  • Accomplishments

Finally, the fifth PERMA model element is accomplishments. We all take pride in something we’ve done or accomplished. It is these accomplishments that strengthen our self-esteem and our confidence that we are worth something. When we achieve something, we feel good and want to do more and become more. It can be seen even in very young children.

For instance, a little girl learns to use the spoon and fork when eating and when she knows how proud her mother is upon learning this, the child continues to use her spoon and fork. She also seeks new things to learn that are more challenging than what she can already do, such as pouring water into her glass or putting her toys back in the cupboard. In short, these accomplishments drive individuals to achieve more and make them feel good.

Dr Seligman believes that, Yet the concept of “happiness” is often hard to accurately define.

Living the good life, flourishing, self-actualization, joy, and purpose are words that come to mind with happiness. Is it possible to experience any of these in the middle of a chaotic world and negative circumstances? Can we learn to grow or find skills that lead to this “good life?”

Positive psychology takes you through the countryside of pleasure and gratification, up into the high country of strength and virtue, and finally to the peaks of lasting fulfilment, meaning and purpose.

The Dr Seligman PERMA model helped us realize the concept of happiness and give us strength, lasting fulfilment, life meaning and life purpose. 



Dr Seligman Video on Positive Education, 2016

Dr Seligman Video on PERMA and Flourishing in the Classroom, 2016

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