Easy, Effective Happiness Practice: 5 Steps That Can Make a Big Difference

"What is the secret to becoming more and feeling happy?”

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People often tell me that they are, “meh,” unhappy – or even worse – that they have no purpose. I’ve also been asked many times, “What is the secret to becoming more and feeling happy?”

 I used to listen with curiosity and I would just keep asking the question, “Why?” Eventually the person would identify and realize they knew exactly what they needed to get over the hump. Unfortunately, they would always forget what they needed to do when life got hectic. It was because they had never built a conscious, consistent framework that supports a more optimistic practice of daily living.

So I went on a quest to find a magic bullet or at least a different way of thinking to help others feel better throughout their lifetime. The search resulted in discovering the work of Martin Seligman, the pioneer of positive psychology. Very early on, psychology was focused on developing practices to treat patients suffering from “diseases of the mind” so they could survive. However, 20 years ago Martin Seligman was more interested in helping people not just survive, but really thrive. Through his research he created a model of happiness (PERMA) that helps us understand the key elements that we can imbed into daily living that results in a happier, more fulfilled life. 

PERMA is an acronym.   

P: Positive Emotions can produce a dopamine release in our body and make us feel good. However, our emotions are impacted by our thoughts, which impact our actions. We have 60,000 to 90,000 thoughts a day and 85 percent of them are negative, and 90 percent are repetitive.

The remedy? Next time you have a negative conversation with yourself, stop and reframe your words to create a positive thought and take notice how you feel and you may even act nicer resulting in that dopamine release. Our bodies respond to the way we think, feel and act; this is the “mind-body-spirit connection.”  Abraham Lincoln once said, “Most folks are about as happy as they want to be.” Was he implying that, when it comes to our happiness, we actually have a choice? Yes.

E: Engagement is about being fully present in the moment, in the flow, connected and not distracted. Engagement in the activities in our lives is important for us to learn, grow and nurture our personal happiness.  According to Gallup, over 70 percent of employees are not engaged at work and this is starting to spill into their personal and family life. We all need something in our lives that entirely absorbs us into the present moment, creating a “flow” of blissful immersion into the task or activity. This type of flow of engagement is important to stretch our intelligence, skills, and emotional capabilities. 

A few ways to start is just being mindful and present in the moment, not future tripping or ruminating about the past. Explore a five-minute meditation to help you re-engage; just take a 60-second full stop pause if time is a barrier. 

R: Relationships are one of the most important aspects of life. Much of the work Dan Buettner, author of Blue Zones, has done on centurions illustrates these people have very strong and healthy relationships and social connections. Having strong relationships gives you support in difficult times. There is a large body of research that shows that pain centers in our brain become activated when we are at risk of being isolated and this could be the worst thing we could do for survival. Gallup has chronicled four types of meaningful moments that build trust and strengthen relationships:


  • asking for help;
  • asking for a favor;
  • proposing a new idea; and
  • pushing back on something. 

So perhaps take a leap and be vulnerable and try creating a meaningful moment in your life, or, if you are on the receiving end, stop and prioritize a connection with the person that is reaching out. You may be surprised how good you will feel. 

M: Meaning is about having purpose about why each of us is here on this planet and is critical to happiness and fulfillment. Rather than the pursuit of pleasure and material wealth, consider the thought that there is an actual meaning to your life. After my father died too young, it became very clear to me that my purpose in life was to be a catalyst for positive lifestyle change both personally and professionally. After 20 years, this is what gets me up in the morning even in my darkest hours. Helping others makes me feel alive. What is your purpose?

A: Accomplishments and having goals in life can help bring fulfillment and happiness and helps us grow and flourish. Sometimes they are big hairy audacious goals at work, or finally cleaning out the garage at home, but even the small things, like making the bed every morning, can improve happiness,

Awareness of the PERMA model can help us be conscious and empowered in determining our level of happiness. Incorporating these five elements into daily living does not take extra time, but it does bring more joy into life. 

Need a little jump start to try it? Watch this video and invest seven minutes in your happiness then pay it forward and see how you feel. You have nothing to lose and so very much to gain.

Colleen Reilly is Vice President, Well-Being Services at ThrivePass; ThrivePass helps companies provide benefits that improve well-being and enrich the employee experience. Colleen has designed and implemented wellbeing programs with Fortune500 companies, including Mayo Clinic, Coors Brewing Company, Boeing, Chipotle, Keurig Green Mountain, Walt Disney Company, Exxon Mobile and Astra Zeneca. She has extensive, hands-on experience in all corporate health and wellbeing arenas, including employee health, productivity, engagement, efficiency and energy management. She is a keynote speaker for numerous wellbeing industry events, and has written for World Congress and Harvard Business Review, among other publications.

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