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 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.


  1. 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

    • 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

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