Putting the P into PERMA

Power of positive emotions

Are you happy? Would you say that you are leading a “good life”?

In recent times, the answers to these two questions may have shifted for many of us. In some cases, life has changed with the changes that the Covid19 pandemic has forced on us. In other cases, we have changed our “definition” of happiness and what makes life good as we adapt to the “new normal”.

We can think of a challenging situation like the Covid lockdown as something that temporarily tips the balance between how happy and good we feel about life on one side and the “resources” we have on the other side to restore and create our happiness. This could look something like in this graphic.

The right side of the balance: the personal experience

Wellbeing balanceHappiness and what makes life “good” are deeply personal – some people are happy watching children laughing and playing, others are happiest in the peace and quiet of a beautiful sunrise. The more we cater to such “happy” experiences through awareness for these moments and by appreciating and savouring them, the bigger our store of wellbeing experiences we can draw upon.


The left side of the balance: what’s going in

Positive psychology is the science that explores the factors that can contribute to a life of wellbeing, a life where we feel happy and which we consider as good. Because “good” and “happy” are different for everyone, the ingredients are different too – and they may have to change as our environment changes. We will now look at three factors on the left side.

1. The PERMA model

So how can we achieve “happiness”? The PERMA model suggests five paths that can lead us to a life of wellbeing, or the “good life”. PERMA is the acronym for these five paths:

  • Positive emotions – kind of self-explanatory…
  • Engagement – is about getting involved in life and enjoying the things we do. When we’re engaged, everything flows (think: hobbies, play)
  • (positive) Relationships – connections with people that make us feel understood, appreciated, loved – and we know we can count on these people in times of need
  • Meaning – answers the question: Why? It helps us make sense of life
  • Accomplishment – anything we achieve for the sake of achieving it

PERMA model


The PERMA model was created by Martin Seligman, one of the fathers of Positive Psychology, and is widely used today, for example with individuals, in schools and organisations. Many Positive Psychology interventions (PPI) have been developed and tested over the years to help work on each of the five wellbeing pathways.

Which of the five ingredients do we need? Quite simply, we need all of them because each one contributes something to our wellbeing. At different times in our life, we may feel that one path needs more attention than others, and that’s how it should be.


2. Your PERMA ingredients aren’t fixed!

When something happens, it can tip our wellbeing balance out of kilter and our personal experience of happiness and “goodness” in life shifts. It’s great if something good happens – say the birth of a child or a job promotion. In the last few months, the experience was for many less good. Maybe the job situation has become fragile or the job has disappeared altogether, maybe we miss our friends and family, and so on.

Many will have used coping strategies to help in the moment – from meditation or signing up to a course to finding new ways to connect with others.

But as the lockdown and the impact from coronavirus drag on, we need to re-assess what “happy” and “good life” means to each one of us – and how we are going to achieve it going forward. We need to change our PERMA ingredients!

Adapting to a changing environment is part of resilience: Re-evaluating and flexing our way of thinking and behaving helps us come through challenging situations better and stronger.


3. Use resilience to change your PERMA ingredients

In these uncertain times, we need resilience to stretch and adapt continuously as the situation evolves. That means we need to take more care of the PERMA ingredients we want to use.

Many people have said to me in the last weeks: “I just want to have something positive!” or “I just want to laugh again!” Maybe it is time to put more P – positive emotions – into our life with a conscious effort.

Laughter exercises like laughter yoga can be an easy way to put the P into PERMA – try it out! The Pop-up Laughter Club is now online for a weekly 30min session (though a single session will only get you so far).

Positive emotions need to be sustained. If you want to bring the P to you, your team or organisation and make it stick, a corporate programme that integrates laughter yoga and other interventions into your daily routines is the way to go.

Ask me how you can do this!

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