Everyone wants to live a happier life. Everyone is searching for things that will make them happier. Some may try to be happy by getting a promotion or a salary hike, others might try to focus on their relationships with friends and families, and some might pay attention to their self-growth and learning.
In psychology, happiness is understood as a positive emotional state that consists of the experience of joy and positive well-being along with a sense that one is living a life that is good and worthwhile. For decades, scientists have been studying this phenomenon and have tried to identify what brings people happiness. One of the most popular theories on happiness in psychology is the PERMA model put forward by Dr. Martin Seligman. This model talks about 5 elements that promote happiness.
What are these elements? Well, the answer lies in the name of the model – PERMA is the acronym for the different elements of well-being: Positive emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Achievement. According to this model, each element is equally important and contributes to an individual’s well-being and happiness. So to live a happier life, one can focus on building out or enhancing each of these elements.
Feeling positive emotions is vital for our happiness and well-being. This goes beyond just smiling or laughing; to experience positive emotions, one must have an optimistic perspective of the past, present and future. Some commonly experienced positive emotions are gratitude, hope, pride, serenity, inspiration, love and amusement.
If you experience positive emotions frequently, you are more likely to handle difficult situations in life with ease. In fact, studies show that experiencing positive emotions can broaden your perspective on a situation, build resilience and help you find creative ways to solve problems.
How you can build positive emotions
- Express gratitude – Gratitude is an important positive emotion that has many physical and mental health benefits. Find time in your day to express gratitude by thinking or making a note of at least one person, object, idea or place that you were thankful for in the day.
- Spend time with loved ones – Make time in your schedule to engage with the people you care about and who make you happy. Plan movie nights or game nights with friends and family, talk to them often and share your thoughts and feelings with those you trust.
- Engage in a hobby – Spend some time in your day or week engaging in activities you enjoy doing – these can include your hobbies and/or interests. If your life is hectic and finding time for fun activities is hard, set a small goal, tell a friend or family member about it, and ask them to check up on you to ensure that you stick to making time for fun.
- Listen to music – Music has a strong ability to influence the way we feel. Listening to your favourite upbeat songs and dancing or humming along can uplift your mood. Make time for music each day – you can even listen to songs while you work or do your chores.
- Exercise – Exercise causes the release of endorphins in your body; these are feel-good chemicals that can immediately put you in a better mood. Try to spend 30 minutes every day doing some form of exercise. Even things like dancing, walking or doing household chores count.
When you feel truly engaged while doing a task, your body’s biochemistry changes – your mind gets more stimulated and your brain releases feel-good hormones in your body. This can give your happiness and well-being a powerful boost.
Being engaged in an activity can put you into a state of flow. Flow is the state that occurs when you are only focussed on the task at hand and nothing else seems to matter. You may become totally absorbed in what you are doing and may not notice the time passing or bother about what’s happening in your surroundings.
When you feel engaged, you end up experiencing a greater sense of control – and this can help you feel calm, focussed and joyful.
How you can build engagement
- Identify your strengths – When you understand what your strengths are, you can build a life that connects with your passion and skills. Identify your strengths and think of different ways in which you can put them to action on a regular basis. Using your strengths can make it easier for you to enter a state of flow and can help you live a more engaged life.
- Practise mindfulness – Mindfulness is the process of bringing your attention to the present moment without judgment or bias. You can become more mindful by practising meditation, yoga or even tai chi. Even a simple exercise of focussing on your senses while doing a chore or everyday activity can help you become more mindful.
- Savour each moment – Savouring refers to using your senses and your mind to increase your positive experiences and emotions. Spend some time each day to consciously slow down and savour an experience. You can do this while eating a meal or talking to a loved one. Pay attention to what you are doing and try to focus on just one task fully. Keep distractions away during this time.
- Do the things you love – Note down the things you enjoy doing and try to do at least one activity that you love each day or week. Make this a part of your routine in order to experience higher levels of engagement.
The focus of this domain or factor is on the connection you have with the people around you. Having a strong, positive emotional and physical connection with your family, friends, peers, and coworkers can help you thrive. Several studies show that having close, secure relationships is important for your well-being – and in fact, even your lifespan.
A good relationship helps you feel supported, promotes love and intimacy and helps you become mentally stronger. Healthy relationships also have physical benefits such as boosting your immune system, lowering your risk of heart disease, and protecting against mental decline.
How you can build relationships
- Eat meals with others – Studies show that eating meals alone can increase an individual’s risk of developing depression. On the other hand, having a meal with a loved one can help you feel connected to them and even enjoy your food more. Try to eat meals with your family, coworkers or friends a few times a week – you can even do this on video call if you want!
- Find new friendships – Be open to making new friends – whether this means being friendly with your coworkers or joining a class or group where you meet new people. During the lockdown, you could even find online communities to connect with new individuals.
- Get to know the people around you – Improve your relationships with people by having conversations and asking them questions about their lives. Being genuinely curious about others in your life can help you learn more about them and can even strengthen your relationship with them. Think of someone you’d want to get close to, and ask questions about their family, personal lives, career, interests and hobbies.
- Stay in touch with loved ones – With all the responsibilities you may be juggling, it can be difficult to stay in touch with friends and family members you are close to. This becomes even more difficult if you live in separate cities or towns. Think of someone you haven’t spoken to in a while, and make a plan to reach out to them. Give them a call or connect with them on video chat to catch up.
- Admire the people around you – Giving compliments and being appreciative of the people around you can not only help them feel good about themselves, but can also strengthen your bond. Find a quality, skill or strength that a person around you has and tell them how much you appreciate it. You could compliment your mother for a dish she made or you could appreciate a colleague for the work they did on a project.
Meaning in life is experienced when you focus your time, actions and effort towards fulfilling the purpose of your life. Having an answer to questions like “Why are we on earth?” and “What is the purpose of life?” can help you feel fulfilled. Having a meaningful life involves attaching yourself to something larger than you. Recognising that there is a larger purpose to life and being a part of that purpose can help you feel involved and engaged.
Finding meaning in your work boosts your engagement and productivity, finding meaning in your relationships helps you feel fulfilled and satisfied, and finding meaning in your everyday life can help improve your psychological health.
How you can build meaning
- Support causes that matter to you – Everyone has a cause that they believe in. Join groups or volunteer with organisations that work for these matters and you will find more meaning in your life.
- Focus on your faith – Studies have shown that people who have strong religious or spiritual beliefs tend to find more meaning in life. If you do have such beliefs, try to spend time each day nurturing your faith.
- Perform acts of kindness – Being empathetic towards the needs of others and putting in the effort to help others can help you find meaning. Try to perform a few acts of kindness in your day – whether this means helping a stranger cross the road, surprising your partner with flowers, giving someone directions or just helping out a coworker.
- Live an authentic life – Being authentic is about being genuine and real. It involves having self-knowledge and self-awareness and embracing your strengths and weaknesses. Living your life in alignment to who you are and what your values are can help you be more authentic.
Accomplishment is the feeling that is experienced once we act towards our goals and are successful in achieving them. Having goals can give us a sense of direction and working towards them can help us feel motivated, driven, and even happy.
Goals are important – they help you challenge yourself and grow and progress as a person. When you achieve a goal, you can end up feeling accomplished and productive. This can also give you a sense of purpose, build your self-esteem, and make you feel more satisfied.
How you can build accomplishment
- Set SMART goals – Setting and achieving goals for yourself can help you feel accomplished. Set yourself SMART goals. Yes, this is another acronym – this time it means having specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound goals. Think of different aspects of your life – your work, your family, your finances and even your personal growth – and set goals for each of these.
- Learn new things – Keeping your mind open to new ideas and actively trying to master new skills can help you feel more accomplished. Try to spend some time in your day or week doing something new or different. You could start an online course, pick up a musical instrument, or even try to cook a new recipe.
- Celebrate your victories – When you are successful with respect to meeting your goals, ensure that you appreciate your success and savour the moment. Celebrate successes by rewarding yourself or doing something nice for yourself. Instead of just focussing on outcomes, you should even focus on rewarding yourself for making progress along the way.
- Persevere when you fail – If you are unsuccessful, do not be discouraged. Avoid giving up and instead, try again. Look at setbacks as opportunities to learn, grow, and improve. Use the feedback from these experiences and focus on doing better – if you achieve success eventually, you will end up feeling even more accomplished. If nothing else, don’t forget that you have learned a lot along the way.
These are some ways in which you can use the PERMA model to your advantage and build yourself a happier life. Remember, while these are just a few strategies, there are many more out there. Decide on any 1 way in which you can start to experience positive emotions, keep yourself engaged, strengthen your relationships, cultivate a sense of meaning, and feel accomplished in life. Start taking action today to build a happier life through PERMA.
Connect with people. (n.d.). Retrieved from Action for Happiness website: https://www.actionforhappiness.org/10-keys-to-happier-living/connect-with-people/details
PERMA+ Positive emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment + Optimism, Physical Activity, Nutrition and Sleep THE WELLBEING AND RESILIENCE CENTRE. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.wellbeingandresilience.com/sites/swrc5/media/pdf/permaandcentreoverview.pdf
Research-Backed Strategies To Help You Flourish | VIA Institute. (n.d.). Retrieved from www.viacharacter.org website: https://www.viacharacter.org/topics/articles/research-backed-strategies-to-help-you-flourish
The PERMA Model: Your Scientific Theory of Happiness. (2019, July 3). Retrieved from PositivePsychology.com website: https://positivepsychology.com/perma-model/
What is PERMA by Martin Seligman. (2014, February 6). Retrieved from GoStrengths! website: https://gostrengths.com/whatisperma/