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By Eric Barker
December 16, 2014
IDEAS
Barker is the author of Barking Up The Wrong Tree

That word is “PERMA.” It’s an acronym for:

  • Positive Emotion
  • Engagement
  • Good Relationships
  • Meaning
  • Accomplishment

Martin Seligman is a professor at the University Pennsylvania and one of the foremost experts on the study of happiness. He gave the following talk in 2011 explaining “PERMA”, the research behind it, and how we can use it to improve our lives. I’ll break it down after the video.

For the longest time the model of happiness we’ve had has followed how we look at health: If you’re sick, we try to make you not-sick. If you’re depressed, we try to make you not-depressed.

But can’t we do more than merely eliminating suffering? Can’t we try to go from normal to happier? Can we flourish?

Seligman explains that the things we need to do to be happier are all tied up in PERMA. So let’s break down what Seligman has to say.

P: Positive Emotion

We need 3 positive things for every negative thing in order to thrive.

Via Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain: How to Retrain Your Brain to Overcome Pessimism and Achieve a More Positive Outlook:

And:

This also ties in to what Seligman explains is one of the most powerful happiness boosting exercises: 3 blessings.

This technique has been proven again and again. Seligman explains it in his book Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being:

E: Engagement

This is what is often called flow. It’s when you’re so wrapped up in what you’re doing that the world fades away:

When do you usually feel flow? It’s when you’re challenged but not beyond your skill level. Passive activities don’t create flow. Neither do overwhelming challenges.

There are a handful of things that need to be present for you to experience flow:

Via Top Business Psychology Models: 50 Transforming Ideas for Leaders, Consultants and Coaches:

  • Clear goals that, while challenging, are still attainable.
  • Immediate feedback.
  • Knowing that the task is doable; a balance between personal skill level and the challenge presented.
  • Strong concentration and focused attention.
  • The activity is intrinsically rewarding.

More on creating flow here.

R: Relationships

Seligman talks about a relatively recent discovery in what makes good relationships. Often it’s not how you fight, it’s how you celebrate:

Via Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being:

He also covers the type of speaking that improves relationships. It’s called “active-constructive.”

Via Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being:

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M: Meaning

Meaning comes from belonging to and serving something that is bigger than you are.

Can we build meaning in our lives? Yes. Seligman explains one exercise is to write your own obituary. What do you want your legacy to be?

Via Richard Wiseman’s excellent book 59 Seconds: Change Your Life in Under a Minute:

Via Shiny Objects: Why We Spend Money We Don’t Have in Search of Happiness We Can’t Buy:

9 minutes in to his famous Stanford commencement speech Steve Jobs discusses the importance he placed on thinking about death during life:

A: Achievement

What has research shown is most tied to success? Seligman says it’s “grit“. Perseverance.

Via Dan Pink’s excellent book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.

Researchers have found that grit is more predictive of success than IQ in a variety of challenging environments from Ivy League schools to military academies to the National Spelling Bee.

More about grit (and how to be “grittier”) here.

Want to learn more about how to use these ideas to be happier? Check out this post.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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