THE PERMA MODEL: Dealing with Grief


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The world is in collective grief with a virus causing us fear and the loss of physical freedom to move about.  We grieve for the life we knew before COVID.  We grieve for the lack of touch and companionship.  We grieve for a world without fear.  We grieve for not having family at Thanksgiving this year. And we grieve for not be able to lip read others who are wearing masks!

The father of positive psychology, Dr. Martin Seligman came up with a theory called THE PERMA MODEL, a scientific theory of happiness.  Seligman’s five building blocks to positive well-being include Positive Emotions like feeling good; Engagement and finding flow; Relationships, including making authentic connections; meaning, which is finding purposeful existence; and Achievement, finding a sense of accomplishment. 

I want to analyze each aspect and see if I can find some reference points in the PERMA Model.  The first is Positive Emotion.  All of us are aware that having a positive attitude and remaining optimistic will help us immeasurably.  But in a pandemic, with the added factor of being a widow, I equate finding a positive outlook to climbing Mount Everest without a rope.  Finding  little bits of positivity, in the midst of the worst crisis of our lives, is an insurmountable task.  Finding gratitude in my daily life gets harder and harder, as I hear the statistics and feel the tension in my life.  How does one stay optimistic in a world gone haywire?

The next facet of the Model is Engagement.  I know that walking has helped me to find some sort of well-being.  By kicking in the endorphins, I can try to find some positive aspects of my life.  Cooking, even just for myself is another activity that keeps me engaged.  A supply of KN95 masks helps at the grocery store! In addition, writing about my life on the internet has helped me to feel engaged with others.

Relationships and finding an authentic connection, is the hardest task of all, as we isolate and protect ourselves from this killer virus.  We are social beings and need to touch, hold, and converse with others.  According to Seligman our pain centers are activated when we are at risk of isolation.  We are all in grief and loss and as a widow, it is a double whammy of anguish.

Finding Meaning in this quarantine and crisis is a deep challenge.  I look to Victor Frankl and his logotherapy which literally translates to healing through meaning.  Frankl was a Holocaust survivor who believed that life can have meaning even in the most miserable of circumstances and that the motivation for living comes from finding that meaning.  Frankl wrote: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”  As a widow, I had to find gratitude in the small steps I took to heal my soul.  In this pandemic, we will have to dig beyond deep to rationalize finding meaning in the smallest of victories.

The last part of the PERMA Model is Accomplishment. This comes on the heels of finding meaning.  Each little accomplishment or baby step forward is something to be applauded.  Count victories along the way.  It can be savoring the taste of a yummy meal.  An accomplishment can include knitting a scarf.  An achievement can be taking a walk when you don’t want to get out of bed.  You can triumph over a workout on Face Time.  You can find success in finally fixing your hair color.  We have mountains to climb in this pandemic, but you don’t have to do them all at once.  Take small steps but try to move forward, not backward.  And if you slip a little, that’s OK too!

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