Positive psychologist, Martin Seligman, argues that people aim for happiness instead of complete life enrichment, often to their own detriment. In his pivotal book, Flourish, Dr. Seligman suggests focusing on overall wellbeing as it has several long-term physical and mental benefits. Dr. Seligman also developed a 5-element PERMA model to help individuals lead a rich and meaningful life, as well as to develop a culture of happiness and wellbeing in organizations.
What is PERMA?According to Dr. Seligman, there are five elements to "well-being", defined by the mnemonic PERMA:
1. Positive Emotions
Dr. Seligman says that 50% of our ability to be happy is based on our genes. It is 50% heritable. The top 50% experience positivity and positive emotions naturally, with much ease. The other 50%, including Martin Seligman, find it much more difficult. If you’re amongst the latter, don’t make too much of it. Over the years, positive psychologists have developed many techniques and tools to help you feel positive emotions like joy, pleasure, love, curiosity, and inspiration consistently and for longer periods of time.
The University of California, Berkeley, states that happiness and positive emotions have lasting effects on physical and mental health. Therefore, including positive emotions, thoughts, and feelings in our everyday activities is essential.
Today, work takes up a majority of our time and attention. Therefore, it is important that we feel positive about what we spend at least a third of our life doing. Recognizing the good parts of our jobs, feeling and expressing gratitude towards those who offer help and support, and learning from challenges and hurdles are great ways to ignite positive feelings. Remembering the impact your work has on the company, your customers, and the world in general will fill you up with positive thoughts, hope, satisfaction, confidence, and enthusiasm.
If you don’t feel any of these emotions towards your work, it’s probably time to evaluate why and work towards making your professional life something you can be proud of. Sometimes, it helps to have nature around you; a plant on your work desk or a pet at home.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, an American-Hungarian psychologist, says that the highest level of engagement, or 'Flow' as he calls it, is achieved when an individual’s skills match the challenges presented to them. And when this occurs, they enter a state where everything around them seems to disappear—the environment, their troubles, and even themselves. Only the thing that they are working on in the state of Flow exists and time seems to pass really fast.
Reaching this state of flow can be tough. According to Dr. Csikszentmihalyi, it takes at least a decade of continuous experience in doing a task to feel completely engaged in it. Some people , however, briefly experience this state of flow when they listen to music or spend time with someone they really connect with.
In the workplace, when employees have the requisite skills but don’t face enough challenges, they end up in a state of apathy. Whereas, a combination of poor skills and high challenges results in anxiety. Therefore, being in a state of Arousal, Control, or Flow is ideal.Leaders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and HR personnel must find ways to increase engagement for their employees. Mapping employee skills and presenting them with the right challenges has several benefits both for the company and the employee.
3. Positive RelationshipsIf the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we wish to be around people. We yearn for emotional and physical connections with our kind and no amount of material resources can overcome this longing.
Strong and positive relationships have the power to reduce our stress levels, heal us in difficult situations, and motivate us to be better human beings. They give our lives purpose, helping us live longer and happier.
Complete wellbeing cannot be achieved by people who choose to isolate themselves. Take time to identify people in your life who help you through tough times, not the ones who stay for the good times. Work on strengthening these relationships and nurturing them. Be as much a part of their lives as they are of yours.Leaders need to create workplace environments that foster strong and positive bonds between their people. These relationships not only help individuals deal with workplace stress but also ignite a spirit of community and teamwork. A win-win for both employees and the organisation.
4. Meaning“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” - Friedrich Nietzsche
In a study by Dr. Seligman, it was found that the pursuit of a pleasant life has almost no contribution to a person’s life satisfaction. Whereas, the pursuit of engagement gave much higher satisfaction, with the search for meaning topping the list.
Companies and leaders who understand their purpose and communicate it effectively to their people grow exponentially and sustainably over the long-term. Employees who not only understand but also relate to their organisational goals do everything in their power to accomplish that overriding vision. It is therefore very important that leaders learn how to express themselves effectively and inspire their teams.Organisations should also consider having several purposes beyond doing business like a cause they care about, interest in physical and mental health, etc. This creates a sense of community that encourages employees to work towards a purpose bigger than the self.
5. AccomplishmentAccomplishing a task—any task— makes us happy. Test it out yourself. Spend a whole day doing absolutely nothing—just lie in bed. The next day, make a list of 3 tasks and accomplish them. Contrast how you feel at the end of the day—when did you feel more energetic, happy, and satisfied?
Accomplishments make us feel useful and confident and boost self-esteem. Completing a project at work, cooking a filling meal, achieving a life goal—accomplishing tasks, big and small, helps us find purpose and pull ourselves up when we’re down. In the workplace, it is important for leaders to notice employees and appreciate their accomplishments.
Incentivizing achievements can go a long way towards inspiring and motivating your team. Don’t wait for a company-sponsored award ceremony to tell your employees that you like their work, take time out of your schedule and praise their accomplishment immediately.The PERMA model can be adopted by both individuals looking to enhance their lives and organisations building a culture of happiness, wellbeing, and productivity. Maximizing each of the 5 elements of the PERMA model creates an enriched lifestyle full of happiness, smiles, positivity, and meaning.