PERMA: The Ingredients of Happiness

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woman happy holding balloons in grassfield

We pursue happiness all our lives. Despite the ubiquity of happiness as a goal, there is no recipe as to how to define or achieve it. It could mean landing a fulfilling and stable job to some, having a perfect relationship or achieving great success for others — all of which can be joyous moments we cherish in life. 


In the book Flourish, Martin Seligman — a pioneer of Positive Psychology — shares his unique understanding of happiness and well-being in an attempt to find out the secret ingredients of happiness. Learn more about his PERMA model to flourish and thrive.


Positive Psychology: What is PERMA?

PERMA is a model, an acronym that consists of 5 essential building blocks of well-being and happiness: Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Achievement.


Positive emotions

Can you think of any positive emotions besides happiness? Human emotions are intricate and dynamic, we can experience hope, love, pride, gratitude and an infinite range of sentiments. Positive emotions are the magic spells for you to “flourish” in life, leading one that is authentically enjoyable and accomplished. Through making an effort to engage in intellectual and creative activities, you can cultivate or learn positive emotions, ultimately improving overall mental well-being. Such challenges may bring more long-lasting enjoyment and positive emotions that are unparalleled by the simple pleasure derived from satisfying basic, physiological needs such as hunger or sleep.


One fascinating finding is that focusing on positive emotions can empower you to bounce back from the effects of their negative counterparts, eventually boosting your emotional resilience. Through taking stock of every small wonder around us and cultivating positive emotions from it, you can minimize the impact of negative emotions in your life. Resilient individuals can turn these positive emotions into an edge to adapt and find positive meaning even in adversity.



Seligman termed engagement as “being one with the music, time stopping, and the loss of self-consciousness during an absorbing activity”, or simply put, living and focusing on the present moment


If you wish to learn more, flow, a mental state known as being in the zone, provides a more detailed explanation for the harmonization of the object and us. To experience flow, you should strike a balance between challenge and capability. Flow requires the person to be immersed in the feeling of vigorous focus, with full utilization of all the cognitive and emotional resources that make up thoughts and feelings. Research has shown that people engaging in flow activities once a week are happier and less depressed after 6 months. 


Engagement is a tremendously powerful concept that fully exercises our uniquely human abilities and thus improves the quality of your performance in various activities.



The relationship aspect of PERMA emphasizes the significance of being supported, loved and valued.


From momentary encounters with strangers to long-lasting relationships with family and friends, relationships encompass all interactions you have with other people in your life. It doesn’t matter if you are an extrovert or an introvert, meaningful relationships are an indispensable part of life, let alone a “good” one. A study even reveals that social networks can make happiness contagious as it fosters the spread of emotions. The need for social connections and belongings is essential to humans, and even more so when we age. Cultivating a healthy social environment and strong social networks promotes the physical health of older adults, and even helps prevent cognitive decline.


While everyone wants to improve their relationships with others, especially with the closest ones, more often than not, they find it hard to express themselves effectively. As indicated by a psychological study, social support is of paramount importance when it comes to satisfaction with one’s relationships. A good relationship should serve as a support system for people to rely on especially in times of difficulty. You can build intimacy and nurture closer relationships through actively engaging in constructive communication and offering timely support to show you care for one another.



Ever questioned the meaning and purpose of life? Soul (2020), a Pixar animated movie following a jazz pianist searching for the meaning of his life, strikes a chord in many spectators sharing similar struggles — you are not alone. 


Through finding our own “sparks”, holding onto a meaning or purpose in life, we can uncover a sense of self-worth or even find a place where we belong in the society. Meanings can vary across individuals, based on your upbringing, profession, political ideology, creativity or religious belief. By conferring a more extensive meaning beyond our own beings, we can find the strength to get through difficult times without losing focus.



Having goals in our lives is equally essential to our well-being and happiness, be it an interim target or a lifelong aspiration. Striving to achieve goals reinforces the belief and trust in yourself while the sense of achievement also helps build your self-esteem, as the rewards of perseverance, self-motivation and task mastering. People swell with pride when recalling past success stories. 


It is astonishing that accomplishing intrinsic goals, such as autonomy and growth, can bring more significant gains in well-being than fulfilling external goals such as money and status. Studying for exam preparation serves as an extrinsic goal; whereas reading study materials out of curiosity may involve a more intrinsic motivation. It is the interest and enjoyment from learning that motivates our actions, rewarding us with a far more fulfilling experience by the gain of knowledge than the mere completion of an examination.

PERMA+: beyond PERMA

Drawing inspiration from Martin Seligman’s PERMA model, people start to explore various possibilities and propose PERMA+. 


A plus sign (+) is added to PERMA to represent physical activity, nutrition, sleep and optimism, elements that highlight the essence of physical health. Physical health is a prerequisite to the pursuit of psychological well-being, not to be overlooked even in your busiest days.

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How to apply PERMA in life

To achieve PERMA in our life, you need to first explore and understand more about yourself. 


Remember any activities that made you lose track of time? Those are what you need to enter a state of “flow” — as you live fully in the present. 


Or it could be any activities in the uncharted territories that you might enjoy. Take a leap of faith, uncover your meaning and purpose in life with the help of new career opportunities, new volunteer or community activities, being involved in value-aligned organizations etc.


Setting goals is crucial — especially realistic and achievable ones. You are recommended to track the progress of your goals constantly and document the accompanying emotions when you achieve them.


Doing things that you enjoy can be the easiest way to boost positive emotions. Apart from that, genuine, honest reflection on what to be grateful for and treasuring every small win at present can further increase your capacity to savor positive emotions. In this regard, a gratitude journal can assist you in keeping track of the good things in life. When hard knocks life, this tool — as trivial as it looks — can instill the much-needed hope into your life.


Also, try to reflect on both your past successes and failures to identify and learn about your own strengths and abilities, and do things that you can manage. You may be surprised by your own potential as you engage in meaningful activities, build connections and establish your sense of achievement.


Investing in meaningful relationships and spending time with your significant others matters. To nurture relationships, you can initiate to understand more about people you do not know well (yet), or to reach out to people you have lost touch with.

Key takeaways

The PERMA model is a journey to happiness and well-being. Live in the present moment and value every single emotion you have. Start small, and work yourself towards your goals in life. 


As the saying in the book Flourish goes — “What can every human being affirm? We can all say yes to more well-being.”


What does the plus stand for in PERMA?

The plus sign (+) stands for the possibility and diversity of a human’s multilateral well-being. It may include optimism, nutrition, physical activity and sleep, signifying the importance of both mental well-being and physical health.

How shall I use the PERMA model in my life?
How can I know my progress in PERMA?

This article was independently written by Healthy Matters and is not sponsored. It is informative only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be relied upon for specific medical advice.

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