The PERMA Model: Your Scientific Theory of Happiness

group smiling peope - perma modelEveryone seems to be in the pursuit of happiness nowadays, but what if we had a model—like the PERMA model—to help guide us?

There are many ways to reach happiness, including training your mind for happiness, spending money on others, and following the guidelines presented here for well-being and happiness.

What are the actual elements that promote happiness within each of us and how can we foster communities that prioritize humans who thrive together?

Seligman’s theoretical model of happiness (PERMA) helps us understand these elements and what we can do to maximize each element to reach a life full of happiness.

Before you read on, we thought you might like to download our 3 Positive Psychology Exercises for free. These science-based exercises will explore fundamental aspects of positive psychology including strengths, values and self-compassion and will give you the tools to enhance the wellbeing of your clients, students or employees.

You can download the free PDF here.

 

Seligman’s PERMA Model

A scientific theory to happiness - perma model
PERMA Model. Property of Wikimedia Commons.

Martin Seligmanone of the founders of positive psychology, developed a five core element of psychological well-being and happiness. Seligman believes that these five elements can help people work towards a life of fulfillment, happiness, and meaning.

Institutions can also use this model to develop programs that help people discover and use new cognitive and emotional tools.

We explore each of these elements below.

 

P – Positive Emotion

This element is, perhaps, the most obvious connection to happiness. Focusing on positive emotions is more than smiling: it is the ability to remain optimistic and view one’s past, present, and future from a constructive perspective.

A positive view can help in relationships and work, and inspire others to be more creative and take more chances. In everyone’s life, there are highs and lows; focusing on “the lows” does increase your chances of developing depression, although the equation for depression is very complicated.

Regardless, there are many health benefits to optimism and positivity.

How do we distinguish between pleasure and enjoyment for this? Pleasure is connected to satisfying bodily needs for survival, such as thirst, hunger, and sleep. Whereas enjoyment comes from intellectual stimulation and creativity.

When a child completes a complex lego car that requires their concentration, for example, they might beam with joy and satisfaction from their work.

This type of positive emotion is crucial. It can help people enjoys the daily tasks in their lives and persevere with challenges they will face by remaining optimistic about eventual outcomes.

 

E – Engagement

Activities that meet our need for engagement flood the body with positive neurotransmitters and hormones that elevate one’s sense of well-being. This engagement helps us remain present, as well as synthesize the activities where we find calm, focus, and joy.

girl playing an instrument - PERMA engagement positive psychology People find enjoyment in different things, whether it’s playing an instrument, playing a sport, dancing, working on an interesting project at work or even just a hobby.

When time truly “flies by” during an activity, it is likely because the people involved were experiencing this sense of engagement.

We all need something in our lives that absorbs us into the current moment, creating a ‘flow’ of blissful immersion into the task or activity. This type of ‘flow’ of engagement stretches our intelligence, skills, and emotional capabilities.

 

R – Relationships

Relationships and social connections are crucial to meaningful lives.

Too often, the pursuit of happiness has this Western bias of “individuality” where each person steers their personal happiness ship to shore. This is not realistic. We are social animals who are hard-wired to bond and depend on other humans. Hence, the basic need for healthy relationships.

We thrive on connections that promote love, intimacy, and a strong emotional and physical interaction with other humans. Positive relationships with one’s parents, siblings, peers, coworkers, and friends is a key ingredient to overall joy. Strong relationships also provide support in difficult times that require resilience.family playing board game - PERMA relationships positive psychology

In an interview with Dr. Mitch Printein’s about his course on the psychology of popularity, Printein explained the research on pain centers in the human brain.

Basically, our pain centers become activated when we are at risk of isolation. From an evolutionary perspective, isolation is the worse thing we could do for survival.

These activation centers are like fire alarms in the body, discouraging people to continue feeling this pain, and ideally, reconnect socially with someone or a group. We need, neurologically, to know that we belong to a group; it helps us feel safe and valued, and has for millions of years.

 

M – Meaning

Having an answer as to “why are we on this earth?” is a key ingredient that can drive us towards fulfillment.

Religion and spirituality provide many people with meaning, as can working for a good company, raising children, volunteering for a greater cause, and expressing ourselves creatively.

Unfortunately, the media worships glamour and the pursuit of material wealth, impacting many people to feel like money is the gateway to happiness. While we do need money to pay for basic needs, once those basic needs are met and financial stress is not an issue, money is not what provides people with happiness.

Understanding the impact of your work and why you chose to “show up at the office” may help you enjoy the tasks and become more satisfied with what you do. Whether you work in an office or not, think of what you spend most of your time doing. What does that activity provide you with?

Check out Itai Ivtzan’s Awareness-Meaning Therapy if you want more resources on this weighty aspect of happiness. His video in that link on “Awareness is Freedom” has provided inspiration to reflect and change for thousands of people.

 

A – Accomplishments

Having goals and ambition in life can help us to achieve things that can give us a sense of accomplishment. You should make realistic goals that can be met and just putting in the effort to achieving those goals can already give you a sense of satisfaction when you finally achieve those goals a sense of pride and fulfillment will be reached.

Having accomplishments in life is important to push ourselves to thrive and flourish.

 

How to Apply the PERMA Model in Your Life

Being aware of the PERMA model might help you consider the meaning and fulfillment to your life. The next step is to integrate this model with your daily life.

As a start, we recommend you refer to the 5 elements of the model often. Find the things that make you happy and can make you fully engaged. You could even put goals on challenging yourself in the activities you enjoy. Focus on your relationships with your family and friends, and find ways to connect with others, even if it does not come naturally to you at first. Find the meaning to your life and what gives you a sense of purpose. It’s different for everyone.

How might you apply any element of the PERMA model into your life? Have you found success in any parts of it? We would love to hear your ideas in our comments section below the infographic.

infographic perma model

You can also download the printable version of the infographic here.

Still hungry for more information and how the PERMA model can enact the necessary change towards more meaning-rich lives? Then we recommend you watch this video below that provides greater context and information. Also, be sure to read this blog post about happiness quotes and the science behind them.

 

Watch Seligman Discuss His PERMA Model

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our 3 Positive Psychology Exercises for free.

If you wish for more, our Positive Psychology Toolkit© contains over 300 science-based positive psychology exercises, interventions, questionnaires and assessments for practitioners to use in their therapy, coaching or workplace.

  • Prinstein, M. (2015). The Psychology of Popularity: An interview with Dr. Mitch Prinstein [Skype interview].
  • Slavin, S. J., Schindler, D., Chibnall, J. T., Fendell, G., & Shoss, M. (2012). PERMA: A model for institutional leadership and culture change. Academic Medicine, 87(11), 1481. Here.
  • The PERMA model. (n.a). Positive Psychology Melbourne.
  • What is PERMA? The technical definition. (2012) Go Strengths! Here.

About the Author

Mariana Pascha, Psychologist, BSc. is a Knowledge Analyst at Spencer Stuart. She hopes to use positive psychology as a way of improving lives, starting at the fundamental developmental years of life.

Comments

  1. Harry Teodoro A. Crisanto

    I find the lecture very fascinating, in-depth, practical and useful. It will really be a great help for myself, family, friends and people who i care for. Thank you

    Reply
  2. Bhabani

    I found this article very helpful, but I have some doubt or confusion. I understand that Relationship is an important key element for our survival. But, how can an introvert person, who draws energy from contemplative thinking and avoids socializing, incorporate this element (R) of the PERMA model into his life?
    Thank you for the article.

    Best Regards.

    Reply
    • Nicole Celestine

      Hi Bhabani,

      This is a great question! Indeed, it may seem paradoxical that introverts draw energy from contemplation and solitude, yet relationships feature in the PERMA model. However, introvert or extrovert, all of us require relationships and social connection — as humans, we’re just wired that way. While long stints of socializing may tire introverts, rich relationships still contribute to an introvert’s overall happiness. It’s just that they may need to take regular breaks and have time alone to ensure they are seeing the benefits of these relationships.

      For more on this, have a read of this article.

      Hope this helps!

      – Nicole | Community Manager

      Reply
  3. Stefan Steffansson

    Do you consider updating this information with PERMA+ where Seligman added Physical Activity, Nutrition, Sleep and Optimism to the original PERMA model? I’m also curious to know more about the research an validity behind this “+”.

    Cheers from Sweden!

    Reply
  4. Abhijaya Mukherjee

    It has enlighten me in a wider aspect. Even though I knew these beforehand it gave me a really concrete explanation of how the positive psychology works. I can now apply these in my practical life as well as help those in need.

    Reply
  5. Riazulhaq

    it made me conscious of the main switch of happiness and to feel life closely..I find myself prone to adapt all that because these may be the the thoughts already there in mind but now they are worded….an in some concrete shape before me…..like a writing on the wall….thanx a lot

    Reply
  6. Yuvajani

    After feeding my mind with PERMA i feel something enthusiastic,that i should engage myself self in somthing best , better not to worry about something and accomplish the meaning of what my life is.

    Reply
    • Nicole Celestine

      Hi Yuvajani,
      Glad you took something away from this reading. I agree that sometimes it’s best to just pick something you feel passionate about and go for it! Once you do, sometimes an understanding of purpose and higher meaning will become apparent later down the track.
      Thanks for reading.
      – Nicole | Community Manager

      Reply
  7. likhitha

    After feeding mind with model of PERMA my mental health changed from “thinking i’m with depression” to “now i can handle any illness” very helpful

    Reply
    • Nicole Celestine

      Hi likhita,
      So glad you’ve found success putting the principles of PERMA into practice. Keep up the good work!
      – Nicole | Community Manager

      Reply
      • aadi

        Let’s see whether it works..

        Reply
  8. Chaudhari Aishwarya Bharat

    I am a student and wanted to improve my mental health and I think positive emotion and engagement are the best part of PERMA model.

    Reply
    • Nicole Celestine

      Hi Chaudhari,
      Congratulations on making a commitment to improving your mental health. I’m glad to hear that this model resonated with you. If you’d like some more materials to help you with your mental health goals, consider checking out this blog post where we walk through 26 science-backed mental health exercises.
      – Nicole | Community Manager

      Reply
  9. Ana

    I dreamed about this word last night, I didn’t have any idea of what its meaning could be.
    Really helpful 🙂

    Reply
    • Nicole Celestine

      Hi Ana,
      So glad to hear you found our article helpful (and how interesting that it came to you in a dream!)
      – Nicole | Community Manager

      Reply
  10. Pamela LeBlanc

    I love my job as an Activity Coordinator at an Adult Day Health Program. I get so excited to have my seniors actively involved in any project I set out for them. I have found that if I am losing a few i break out in a song like You Are My Sunshine or I just come out of my office singing (believe me I was NOT hired for my singing!) but the seniors react to it and I have even heard a few times …oh here she comes, what is she gonna do now? It makes my day to know I am keeping them engaged!

    Reply
  11. Bram Wiley

    Reading this for a class, and thought this was wonderfully written! I was surprised to learn that our pain centers are activated when we are isolated in our lives.
    Thank you!

    Reply
  12. layla eardman

    I am a high school student and I used this for my student leadership program and it was very helpful and I found it interesting that there are so many things u can do to achieve ur goals” never give up ” 🙂

    Reply
  13. isaac newton

    my teacher made me read this 🙂

    Reply
  14. Dana Bates (PHD)

    What is the theoretical relationship between PERMA and the 24 Character Strengths of VIA? I find VIA a lot richer and finely textured and PERMA to be somewhat shallow, though much simpler (which might be the point). One question: We know positive emotions are based in part upon positive values (lived values) which is connected with VIA/24 strengths. Might the VIA framework be a way of parsing out Positive Emotions?

    Reply
    • Nicole Celestine

      Hi Dana,

      All great questions! I agree that PERMA is quite a high-level roadmap to pursuing happiness. I suppose a key difference between PERMA and VIA is that PERMA is a guide for driving behavior. That is, it can help us make decisions about where the channel our energy and how to behave that can lead to happiness. For instance, we can invest time in developing fruitful relationships or contributing to a greater cause to find meaning.

      The five elements of PERMA apply no matter the person. But as you note, VIA may help you to drill down and discover how to pursue these 5 drivers of happiness in a way that is tailored to the individual. For instance, someone with Leadership as one of their strengths may find that they experience greater meaning (and greater subsequent happiness) when they can take up leadership positions, thereby behaving in accordance with this strength.

      What do you think? 🙂

      – Nicole | Community Manager

      Reply
  15. Helena Virk

    This was so great. Very inspiring and interesting.

    Reply
  16. Noor Afshan

    It is easy to understand the these steps and useful in our practical life too.. thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  17. dr chetana jindani

    I found it very useful and organized.. it’s just wonderful.. easy to apply for betterment

    Reply
  18. Estefani

    Awesome, thank you for the great article.

    Reply
  19. sankalp

    I am from Maharashtra India working as a lecturer I fill very useful prema technic thanks

    Reply
  20. Norma Gibbs

    AMAZING!

    Reply
  21. Trish

    Thank you for showing this. I found this so inspiring to watch and I am now thirsty to find out more about this psychology model!

    Reply
  22. Denitz

    PP has totally transformed my life and am now looking to helping one person at a time. Thanks Prof Seligman. Off to make more disciples

    Reply
  23. Linda Berg

    This is a wonderful, inspirational talk.

    Reply
  24. Magnus Karlsson

    Well this is the way to live, van you imagen half of the population never smiling or experince well being excelent theory,:)
    And it is spot on how at least I enjoy life, fell fre to visit at my feel good service at nyaab.se and share a happy memory/ experience and get to Knowles me better on our story(soon aviable in English)

    Reply
  25. Christo

    Thank you, this is inspirational!

    Reply
  26. edoardo

    Thank you so much for this. I work as psychologist in Italy and I’m going to use this with patients, especially in cases of recovery from surgical interventions and serious illnesses.

    Reply
  27. Alan Achterberg

    Thank you so much for all of this! We are building a Peer Recovery Model here in Southern California and hope to adopt some of this into our program for Coaching.

    Reply
  28. Alan Achterberg

    Thank you so much for doing this! The Orange County Recovery Community hopes to have a bigger representation next year.

    Reply
  29. Faye Dolle

    Could you please reference Mariana’s last name? I need it for referencing. thanks

    Reply
    • Anna Smits

      Sure Faye! Her last name is Pascha.

      Reply
      • Anda

        are you sure? she’s no longer part of the team though.

        Reply
  30. sarah

    Hi
    thank you for useful and intelligible text.

    Reply
  31. uzma

    Amazing, I love learning about Positive Psychology and the resources available to use.
    Thanks a lot!

    Reply
  32. Jess

    thank you Mariana rawrrrr xD

    Reply
  33. chris barnes

    When I initially qualified in psychology it was all about studying theories proposed by a group of dead Germans and learning how we may be able to fix people when they broke. It had parallels with medicine in the way that it has evolved to look at how to make the best of people so they are resistant to breaking. Martin Seligman has to be credited to this shift towards positive psychology. “Authentic Happiness” has to be one of the most influential publications in the field.

    Reply
  34. huge

    this is was a very helpful website I found out a lot about mental well being and mental health

    Reply
  35. hsdjfhsdfj'

    ya my dude. relatable. thx helped mef or exam lollll

    Reply
  36. Ramanjit Garewal

    Dear All…
    Nice informative write up…
    Thank you…
    Presently I am pursuing my MPhil at the Department of Philosophy… Mumbai University…
    My research topic for my MPhil dissertation is Happiness…
    Especially from an Indian perspective…
    I will appreciate it if any or all of you could forward me relevant Links…to aricles… Journals… Books…
    Regards…
    Thanking you…
    RAMANJIT GAREWAL
    My email id is ramanjitji@gmail.com

    Reply
  37. gustavo

    Thank you Mariana!

    Reply
  38. Jessie van den Heuvel

    This post has been updated on the 24th of February 2017. Please enjoy!

    Reply
  39. ines

    bonjour
    ou pouvais je trouver ce modele en Français, exercice, approche….
    merci

    Reply
    • Seph Fontane Pennock

      Bonjour Ines, je suis pas sure si ou où ce modele est disponible en Francais. Est-ce que tu as essayé Google.fr?

      Reply
  40. Leoni

    Dear all,
    We have a training company in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Our work is PERMA inspired and we are looking for a measurement tool to use for big groups like communities and teams. Does anyone have contacts/experience with doing zero measurements and second measurements with PERMA? I would be incredibly grateful to hear from you. All the best, Leoni Over The Moon Amsterdam

    Reply
  41. Susan

    I world watt to Know ir the PERMA MODEL can be put among the cognitive theory

    Reply
  42. Iman Setiadi Arif

    Hello, I’m just curious about the scientific status of this PERMA model. Has it been validated scientifically? Thank you very much.
    Arif
    Clinical Psychologist
    Lecturer at
    Maranatha Christian University
    BAndung – Indonesia

    Reply
    • Steve Milton

      Hi Iman
      The PERMA model is scientifically verified and peer reviewed – there are many published articles. Check out Dr Martin Seligman’s (Psych, University of Pennsylvania) website for more details.
      Cheers!
      Steve Milton
      Coach

      Reply
  43. Joseph Plowman

    Hi,
    I would argue that, firstly, as Seligman himself says, PERMA is not a theory of happiness. (Seligman even denies there are such meaningful theories with happiness as a unitary construct.)
    I would also argue that PERMA as Seligman describes it is not just about ‘psychological wellbeing’. Rather, it’s about wellbeing itself, and aims to be a comprehensive list of objective goods. Psychological wellbeing would imply subjective states ontologically, albeit objective in existence. But wellbeing itself, or flourishing, is an objective state which is only partially instantiated by psychological factors.
    Just my two-cents. 🙂
    Best,
    Joe

    Reply
    • Yani

      Hello, Joseph. Im just wondering, is it still okay if we use PERMA model to measure happiness? Because i found it in so many research about happiness, so im kinda confused about the differences between happiness and well being

      Reply
      • Nicole Celestine

        Hi Yani,

        I don’t know about the specific scope of PERMA (and whether it would be appropriate to use it for a happiness measure), but I can recommend the following scale by Lyubomirsky and Lepper as a widely used scale assessing subjective happiness.

        Hope this helps.

        – Nicole | Community Manager

        Reply
  44. Javier Santos

    Thank you for the summary Mariana!

    Reply

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