PERMA and Happiness

“Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.”

What is Happiness?

Have you ever thought about happiness and what it means to you? Have you ever been able to pinpoint the path to happiness? Do you think that your path can be followed by everyone else?

“The degree to which an individual judges the overallquality of his life-as-a-whole favorably” (Veenhoven, 1984)

Happiness means different things to different people because of their individuality, so can happiness be achieved through a standard measure? Martin Seligman the father of positive psychology firmly believes that PERMA can be used as a framework to achieve subjective well-being.

What is PERMA?

Martin Seligman proposed a theoretical model called PERMA. Its five core elements are Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment.

Positive emotion is the first and foremost part that plays a huge role in the flourishing of human beings. According to PERMA, if a person is able to focus on positive emotions throughout his/her life then it will be a step towards happiness. The key is to acknowledge the emotions by feeling gratitude about the past events, savoring each pleasurable moment in the present and having hope for the future. You can contribute to your well-being if you let go of your past grievances, reminisce about the happy and meaningful moments of your life and put aside worry for the future.

Engagement means when a person uses their strengths and abilities to pursue and sometimes even complete a challenging task. The resulting happiness is such that it not only boosts self-esteem but, also has a positive impact on self-image of the individual. Pure engagement happens when a person is immersed in the task so much so that they lose all sense of time and being and their sole focus becomes the task. Have you ever had those instances where you realize that you lost all sense of time and the world because you were completely absorbed in doing a task that you enjoy (e.g. reading a book, playing an instrument, building a device)? Maybe you felt that you had spent mere minutes on it when the reality is that it has been hours since you have been sitting in one spot and doing the activity. This full absorption is called “flow” and it is often said that the people who experience the flow, feel that the time has stopped and that they can do the task without exerting any effort.

We are social beings that seek to connect to other human beings throughout our lives. Baumeister and Leary (1995) state that it is natural for human beings to seek long-lasting interaction with other people and the reason behind it is that there is a strong need to belong in all of us. The inter-personal attachment is said to increase positive emotions like joy, gratification, purpose and serves as a motivation to accomplish goals of our lives. You must have often felt that you experience joy and hope when you are surrounded by the people you love and that it prompts you to perform better in your life. Has it ever happened to you that you start feeling better physically and mentally after you spend time with people who are close to you? Harvard Study of Adult Development is spanned over 80 years and the purpose was to find what element of life truly provides happiness and the answer was relationships. According to the study, people live longer and happier if their relationships with their friends, family and community are warm and strong. The physical and mental health is affected by a person’s social connection i.e. the study suggests that people have shorter lifespans as compared to people who are secure in their bonds with other people. Another finding of the study was that people who are not happy in their relationships suffered deterioration of mental health and physical health.

Ikigaiis, a Japanese concept refers to elements that make life worth living. The concept is focused on the purpose of life of an individual that dictates the meaning of his/her existence and drives behaviors. Meaning in life is when a person’s focus shifts from their own self and goes on to something bigger i.e. to people and the world and this connection is actually a link which makes a person feel connected to not only their self but allows the him/her to evaluate his/her place in the world. This meaning can come from belonging to societal institutions of different kinds like religion, race, culture and others. Meaning of your life is not only limited to your ambitions but it defines your purpose in this world so if you are able to find it, you can unlock the treasure of well-being.

Accomplishment might not always seem like a direct pathway to positive feelings, meaning or relationships but it is still pursued by people because the act of accomplishing a goal gives joy to a person and it can be in any domain of life like business, education, hobbies, personal matters or any other aspect that the individual deems worth his/her time. You might have observed the sense of success and accompanying happiness you feel after you accomplish a goal like score high on a test, get a job, win a race or beat someone in an argument and that sense of mastery over other people or environmental factors contributes to happiness.

It is necessary to remember that every person is unique which means that due to the individual differences, it is possible that a person might derive happiness from one element more and another element might be more suitable for another person. If you want to achieve happiness and well-being, it is recommended to focus on all five elements and try to enhance each according to personal life choices, needs, abilities and interests.


Baumeister, R. F., Leary, M. R. (1995). The Need to Belong: Desire  for Interpersonal Attachments as a Fundamental Human Motivation [PDF  file]. Retrieved from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/5744/8ececb4f70edd8b31ab1fc9625b398afcd29.pdf

Mineo,  L. (2018, January 05). Over nearly 80 years, Harvard study has been  showing how to live a healthy and happy life. Retrieved from https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2017/04/over-nearly-80-years-harvard-study-has-been-showing-how-to-live-a-healthy-and-happy-life/

PERMA™ Theory of Well-Being and PERMA™ Workshops. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://ppc.sas.upenn.edu/learn-more/perma™-theory-well-being-and-perma™-workshops

Rainey,  L. (2014). The Search for Purpose in Life: An Exploration of Purpose,  the Search Process, and Purpose Anxiety [PDF file]. Master of Applied  Positive Psychology (MAPP) Capstone Projects. Retrieved from https://repository.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1061&context=mapp_capstone

Tamir,  M., Shwartz, S. H., Oishi, S., & Kim, M. Y. (2017). Supplemental  Material for the Secret to Happiness: Feeling Good or Feeling Right? Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. Retrieved from   https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/xge-xge0000303.pdf

Veenhoven, R. (2006). How Do We Assess How Happy We Are? Tenets, implications and tenability of three theories. Retrieved from https://www3.nd.edu/~adutt/activities/documents/Veenhoven_paper.pdf

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