More than Just Happiness – Five Pillars of Well-Being (PERMA)October 25 , 2012

Happiness.  It’s been the subject of much of what I’ve been writing over the last 14 months.  But are positive emotions alone sufficient to consider a life well-lived?

Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology, argued that it was in his 2003 book, Authentic Happiness.  He claimed that the quest for happiness (or positive emotions) was the ultimate reason for most of the things people do.  However, after an additional decade of research in positive psychology and his own observations, Seligman recently proposed a broader idea, presented in his recent book, Flourish, a Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being.

Happiness and positive emotions are still a central component of this new theory (so don’t stop doing your happiness habits  😉 ) .  But now he added four other elements that independently contribute to well-being and are worth cultivating.

Seligman’s Five Elements of Well-Being (PERMA):

  • Positive Emotions (P) – (Where it all started for him, and for me.)  Feeling positive emotions such as joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe and love.
  • Engagement (E) – Being fully absorbed in activities that use your skills and challenge you.
  • Relationships (R) – Having positive relationships is a universal requirement to well-being.
  • Meaning (M) – Belonging to and serving something you believe is bigger than yourself.
  • Accomplishment (A) – Pursuing success, winning, achievement and mastery for their own sake.

According to Seligman,

“These five elements are the best approximation of what humans pursue for their own sake …. Although individuals may sometimes pursue these elements for other ends (e.g., they may for instance think that accomplishment will bring positive emotion), many choose to do so because these elements are intrinsically motivating by themselves.”

More than Hedonists

What I like about this broader theory is that it keeps the pursuit of happiness and positive emotions high on the radar, but doesn’t make it the sole purpose of life.  Using this construct, it’s much easier to understand how one would be willing to forego short-term pleasure to invest time and effort into one of the other elements.

For example, many of us have or will end up caring for an aging parent.  This often comes at great expense to one’s happiness and freedom.  But after such an experience, people find there are real benefits to well-being, such as finding more meaning in one’s life, strengthening an important relationship and in accomplishing a difficult task (especially if that relationship had its share of difficulties 😉 ) .

More to Come

Over the next several weeks I’ll be sharing more detail about each of these elements and share some proven paths to help bring more of each of these elements into your life.  Stay tuned.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach
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