What does it mean to flourish at work? Introducing the PERMA Model

Photographer: Tengyart

Are you happy at work? For most of us, our professional experience is a mix of frustration and fulfilment, plus many hours of grind which can be bland and monotonous. It can also be the opposite, highly pressured and seemingly relentless.

Happiness may not rank highly in the array of feelings that we experience at work every day. So how important is this emotion? Is being extremely happy at work an unrealistic measure these days? Clearly being very unhappy most of the time, means something about the job is not working and it can be a warning sign that change is needed. What happens though, when happiness is present but doesn’t feature very highly?

According to Martin Seligman, the founder of the Positive Psychology Movement, happiness isn’t the most valuable state of mind. It’s more important to flourish. The idea is that flourishing is about well-being rather than actual happiness and that flourishing has five key elements to it, each of which you can measure to some degree. These five core elements are summed up in the acronym PERMA. They are a proven route to greater psychological well-being, designed to help people achieve more fulfilment and meaning at work and in life. These elements are described in more detail below.

As Martin Seligman says:

I used to think that the topic of positive psychology was happiness, that the gold standard for measuring happiness was life satisfaction, and that the goal of positive psychology was to increase life satisfaction. I now think that the topic of positive psychology is well-being, that the gold standard for measuring well-being is flourishing, and that the goal of positive psychology is to increase flourishing. This theory, which I call well-being theory, is very different from authentic happiness theory, and the difference requires explanation.

Seligman, M. E. P. Flourish – A new understanding of happiness and well-being – and how to achieve them.

If you are interested this is the link to his book.

Martin Seligman’s PERMA Model

He suggests that well-being, not happiness, is the foundation of the positive psychology movement, and well-being is not just about happiness.

He explains that personal well-being is made up of five measurable elements.

PERMA is an acronym he uses to describe them.

  1. Positive emotion, which you can only assess subjectively
  2. Engagement, which can also only be assessed subjectively, most often present when someone is in the flow state – more about this explained below
  3. Relationships, in other words, the presence of others at work that you feel connected to and accepted by – you value them and in turn they value you
  4. Meaning, which involves belonging, being part of something, serving something bigger than yourself
  5. Achievement, in other words, the accomplishments you pursue, even when for the most part, they require hard work, discipline and a degree of persevering

While none of these PERMA elements on their own defines well-being, they all contribute to it being present in anyone’s life. All 5 dimensions are needed for people to flourish.

Next, the five elements are described in more detail.

Accessing Positive Emotions

Photo by Ian Schneider

Well-being is founded upon a person’s ability to access a range of positive emotions. Identifying and recognising the positive emotions that are present in your life is essential. Examples being, the pleasure of new learning, being grateful, appreciating the moment, and not taking yourself too seriously – fostering humour in challenging situations. It seems obvious that positive emotions do connect to feelings of happiness. Sometimes though, it does take time to notice them, to choose to acknowledge and claim these kinds of personal examples. All too easily, they can stay in the background, tucked under the busy demands of daily living.

It’s all about the ability to remain optimistic and constructive when looking at your life, whether it’s the present, past and future. When you have a positive outlook it improves working relationships, inspires engagement in other people, and encourages everyone to take more chances. In contrast, focusing on the lows tends to increase anxiety and brings the mood down of those around you.

Engagement and the flow– Get those neurotransmitters firing!

When you feel engaged, floods of positive neurotransmitters and hormones boost your feelings of well-being. Engagement helps us all stay in the present, be mindful, and enjoy the activities that make us feel focused and involved. Those experiences are when time just flies by and we forget about everything else. Everyone needs to dip into this flow now and again. It is a place that gives us feelings of being absorbed and caught up in the activity. When you are able to experience this flow, at least now and again on a regular basis at work, you will feel far more satisfied.

Relationships – Crucial to a meaningful life

Relationships and social connections mean everything to humans. As highly social animals we’re hard-wired to bond, care for and depend on others, and that means we all need healthy relationships. What’s healthy in a relationship context? Love, intimacy, strong emotional and physical interactions, plus generally positive dealings with others – including our co-workers. All these factors deliver vital emotional support in difficult times and help us build true resilience.

Meaning – Why are we here?

It’s a cliché, but money really doesn’t breed sustained happiness. Life has a larger purpose. True well-being is more about creating and enjoying meaning in life, rather the singular pursuit of pleasure or wealth. If something you do focuses on someone or something other than yourself, you are much more likely to feel good about it.

It’s also about finding meaning in the everyday. Ask yourself about the reasons why you enjoy your role. Look at the things you spend most of your time doing and figure out what emotional satisfaction those activities provide. A meaningful existence is invariably a more enjoyable one.

Accomplishments – Realistic goals deliver satisfaction

Having goals and ambitions are what often gives us that sense of accomplishment. Goals need to be achievable and yet somewhat challenging so that by making an effort to reach them, they give you a welcome sense of satisfaction and completion. Accomplishment is often only achieved, despite the difficulties involved. Getting there often does require you to focus, pull upon many of your inner resources and stretch yourself to keep going. When you do hit the mark and achieve a goal, the feelings of pride and fulfilment you can enjoy often then help you push yourself further.

Know more about flourishing at work– Watch the videos

Here’s a short introduction to PERMA
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Here’s a longer video going into more detail
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Integrate this PERMA approach into your life

Would you like to integrate more of these 5 elements at work? If so, then we can help. Do get in touch.