The PERMA Method; How to Achieve True Happiness With Positive Psychology

Smiley faces on a roll

Credit: Sticker Giant CC by 2.0

The Secrets of True Happiness

The secret to being truly happy in life comes from five basic elements. That’s the view of Martin Seligman, a leading expert in “Positive Psychology.” He has discovered through extensive research that these five basic ingredients give life balance, joy and meaning. Seligman calls this state of mental health “flourishing.”

The PERMA Model

“What a flourishing adult or child has is not just the absence of misery, but the presence of five things,” Seligman said in a presentation in Adelaide, Australia. Seligman said “flourishing” includes elements like joy, comfort and good relationships. It also includes engagement in activities that allow us to forget about time and in serving something bigger than ourselves. He outlines those five things that add up to “well-being” with the letters PERMA.

The 5 Elements of PERMA

Here are some ways to incorporate the components of PERMA into your own life to make it more satisfying and meaningful.

  1. Positive Emotion: The feelings of joy, comfort and cheerfulness are a foundation of a satisfying life. Even though some people may not generally feel happy or merry most of the time, Seligman says positive emotions can be learned. One simple exercise that can increase positive emotions is to take a few minutes at the end of each day to write down three things that went well that day and why they went well. Seligman found that people who do this for six months have less depression, less anxiety and higher life satisfaction.
  2. Engagement: Being completely engaged in the present moment is also known as being in the “flow.” That’s commonly referred to as times “when you are one with the music” or “when time stops.” This total engagement is encouraged when you use your “signature strengths,” which are moral strengths, like kindness, gratitude and sense of humor. You can figure out your own signature strengths by doing a short questionnaire at Seligman’s website and then you can increase your happiness by applying those strengths in your life.
  3. Relationships: A good relationship is formed from skills that can be learned. One important ingredient is “active, constructive responding.” Seligman suggests “celebrating” others to build stronger and more loving relationships in marriage, friendship and even in business. If a friend says they got a promotion at work, for instance, instead of just saying “Congratulations, you deserve it,” ask them about the reasons they earned the promotion. Then plan a time to go out to lunch to celebrate the promotion.
  4. Meaning: Belonging to and serving something that you believe is bigger than yourself is good for mental health, because human beings, by nature, are social creatures. One suggested exercise is to write a “life summary” that reviews what you’ve contributed to society. Did you help children learn to read? Were you cheerful and encouraging when you spent time with friends, family and coworkers? Did you give your time and energy to environmental causes or homeless individuals? Are there ways you can do more of these things? Apply what you discover about your own life, so that day-by-day, year-by-year, you focus more of your energy on whatever gives your life meaning.
  5. Accomplishment: Having goals and ambition in life can help us to achieve things that give us a sense of accomplishment. It’s important to have realistic goals, so that when you put in the time and effort to achieve them you can enjoy a sense of accomplishment. Having accomplishments in life helps us thrive and flourish.

Applying the PERMA Model for Increased Happiness

Review the five elements of flourishing now and then, and do some of the exercises so you can keep positive habits active in your life at home, at work and in your community.

Some things that make you fully engaged may change over time, so adjust your activities to maintain a sense of engagement. Continue to learn new ways to improve relationships. Each person has different strengths and a unique vision of what makes life meaningful. Keep PERMA as part of your life and make changes that add to your happiness and keep you “flourishing.”

Seligman, Martin, “PERMA,” Adelaide Thinker in Residence, Adelaide, Australia, 2012-2103

Pascha, Mariana, “The PERMA Model: Your Scientific Theory of Happiness,” Positive Psychology Program, The Hague, The Netherlands, Feb. 24, 2017