Traditionally, a major focus of psychology has been to relieve human suffering. However, people want to thrive, not just survive. That’s where positive psychology and PERMA come in.
PERMA in positive psychology is the scientific theory of “well being.” It’s an acronym standing for each of the five pillars established by Martin Seligman that are essential for growing happiness.
The letters in PERMA stand for:
- Positive Emotion
Cultivating each of the five core elements in PERMA contributes either objectively or subjectively to improving overall well-being.
P – Positive Emotion
Positive emotions include more than just general “happiness.” Some emotions that fall within this category include things like gratitude, interest, compassion, love, and amusement.
Positive emotions can be cultivated to improve one’s state of well-being. And in some cases, they can actually help reverse the existing effects of negative emotions.
Increasing positive emotions as a whole helps individuals to build up physical, intellectual, social, and psychological resources that can lead to improved resilience in the future.
E – Engagement
Engagement is focused on living in the present. An example would be losing yourself in an activity you enjoy—becoming engrossed.
When you are pursuing something purely for enjoyment, and are fully focused on it, you achieve a state called flow.
People with high levels of engagement are more creative, productive, content, and have a higher sense of well-being.
R – Relationships
When we talk about relationships within the PERMA model, we’re referring to positive relationships. This relates to our feelings of being supported, loved, and valued by the other people in our lives.
While it’s true that everyone has varying levels of extroversion and introversion, humans are an inherently social species.
People who try to achieve well-being through extreme individualism can end up weakening or losing their social connections, resulting in less happiness and well being.
Conversely, cultivating meaningful and intimate relationships is essential for our happiness and well being; being able to respond with genuine enthusiasm to others we share close or intimate connections with can increase our feelings of well being, intimacy, and satisfaction.
M – Meaning
Meaning, the fourth pillar of the PERMA model, can vary significantly depending on the individual. It refers to the idea that one’s life is valuable and worthwhile—and that there is something to believe in beyond oneself.
For most people, their sense of meaning will be connected to their core beliefs and personal values. However, finding deep meaning requires an investment of time in self-examining one’s own beliefs and values.
A – Accomplishment
When is the last time you felt a sense of accomplishment?
In the PERMA model, accomplishment is the result of striving toward—and reaching—goals.
It includes the ideas of perseverance and having the passion to attain personal goals. It can also be thought of as achievement, competence, or mastery.
Being aware of PERMA in psychology can be used by individuals to achieve a state of higher happiness, fulfillment, and well-being, with less stress and higher resilience.
However, balancing a combination of having positive emotions, being “in the moment,” living with meaning, cultivating supportive relationships, and feeling accomplished isn’t easy for everyone.
Becoming able to apply and make use of these things in real life can take time, guidance, and practice.
For more information about PERMA, see PERMA: A Deep Dive into Positive Psychology’s Model of Well Being.