As a mental health professional, I am honored when a person makes the courageous (and sometimes humbling) step to seek out my support to help cope with troubling times or problematic thoughts, feelings and behaviors. It can be difficult to acknowledge when life’s circumstances or internal struggles get to the point that you or your loved ones feel the best course of action is to seek out the help of a professional. I’ve been there…members of my family have been there…my friends have been there. It can be really helpful…though not always easy, and the process of talking through your problems with someone can be difficult yet beneficial.
But, I’m the kind of mental health professional that believes in my heart that many of us don’t necessarily need to sit down with a therapist to work through our problems. There are a variety ways to support our mental health and overall wellness by placing more attention on and making time for good life practices.
Positive Psychology is a term shared by Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph.D. back in 1998 when he was initiated as president to the American Psychology Association (APA). This branch of psychology in many ways has been a reaction to past practices in the field which focused on mental illness, maladaptive behaviors, and negative feelings. Instead, positive psychology takes into account our ability to focus and reflect on the factors that contribute to having a well-lived and fulfilling life. Sounds pretty good, eh?
So…what are these factors?
Dr. Seligman (2012) developed the concept of PERMA which includes five components that people reach for because they are intrinsically motivating and contribute to well-being. Research over the past decade supports what he and his colleagues theorized.
- Positive Emotions
- Positive Relationships
Positive emotions are much more than just happiness. Experiencing a wide range of positive emotions such as hope, joy, interest, love, compassion, pride, awe, amusement, and gratitude are keys to a flourishing life.
How do I do it? Seek out experiences that help you connect with these emotions through spending time with people you enjoy, delving into hobbies, listening to great music, and reflecting on good things that have happened in your week and writing them down. These are all great ways to foster positive emotions.
Engagement in life means being immersed and absorbed in an activity, not just going through the motions. This is achieved by finding the perfect balance between being challenged and feeling skilled and being present in the moment instead of thinking ahead to lunch or what you need to do when you get home.
How do I do it? Seek out activities that you really love, especially ones where you lose track of time and any distractions around you seem to fade away. Be truly present when taking on a task even if it’s a boring one. Pay special attention to the small details throughout your day. For example, notice the warmth of the water as you’re washing the dishes, and enjoy the process of getting them clean. Get out in nature and notice what is happening around you. Feel the sun as it hits your skin. Listen to the birds singing. See the plants as they emerge from the ground.
Positive Relationships provide a sense of feeling supported, loved, and valued by others. Not only does this include our relationships with our partners, family members, and friends, but also with our coworkers, neighbors, clients, and supervisors.
How do I do it? Ask questions to learn more about the people you live, work, and spend time with. Reach out to people you have lost touch with. Celebrate the successes of others and share your own victories with the people around you. Join a class or group that interests you, and develop connections with other members.
Meaning gives us a reason to get out of bed in the morning and to have a sense of purpose or worth. We may gain this through our work, our families, extracurricular activities, social causes, spiritual beliefs, or creative outlets.
How do I do it? Figure out what you’re passionate about and pursue it. Find ways of weaving what you find meaningful into your regular routine. Step outside your comfort zone and try something new. Often times, this sparks an interest you never realized you had and connects you with others who have similar interests.
Accomplishment/Achievements provides a sense of mastery or competence. When we establish a goal, make a path to achieve it, stick to it even when it gets tough, and ultimately reach that goal, it is motivating. We feel a sense of satisfaction. We gain a sense of mastery. It boosts our well being.
How do I do it? Set goals for yourself that are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound). Identify and reflect on past successes, and identify what helped you achieve these wins. Then, find enjoyable ways to celebrate your achievements when you attain them.
Other Factors to Consider
Dr. Seligman encouraged other psychologists and researchers to add on to his model by identifying additional factors that impact our sense of well-being. Some additional factors that impact not only our well-being, but also our work performance are:
• Physical Health
• Work Environment
• Economic Security
More on these in a future post!
Donaldson SI, van Zyl LE and Donaldson SI (2022) PERMA+4: A Framework for Work-Related Wellbeing, Performance and Positive Organizational Psychology 2.0. Frontiers in Psychology. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.817244/full
Madeson, M. (2022, April 2). Seligman’s PERMA+ Model Explained: A Theory of Wellbeing. Positive Psychology. https://positivepsychology.com/perma-model/
Positive Psychology. (2022. April 23). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Positive_psychology
Seligman, M. (2011). Flourish. New York, NY: Free Press.
Seligman, M. (2018). PERMA and the building blocks of well-being, The Journal of Positive Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2018.1437466