The following summarizes key concepts from the first chapter of Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being by Dr. Martin Seligman. I've found this book very useful, though Seligman's style can be a little off-putting at times. If you find this post interesting, please purchase Flourish.
PERMA is an acronym relating to a five-element model of well-being advocated by Dr. Martin Seligman, who may be the foremost researcher into well-being. PERMA stands for:
Positive Emotion, or what Seligman calls "the pleasant life." Positive emotion relates to feelings like pleasure, ectstacy, warmth, and comfort. Essentially, feeling good is good.
Engagement, or flow and connectedness with one's work. I think of this as anti-boredom. Engagement is when you are so interested in an activity that time seems to stop. The more time we spend in this state, the better we feel.
Meaning, or service to something greater than oneself. Service to others or to a cause in which one strongly believes can cultivate meaning in one's life. Our work for these causes enhances our sense of well-being.
Accomplishment, or excellence for no reason other than excellence. Seligman added this dimension after noting that some people pursue accomplishment for its own sake and not because it results in positive emotion, engagement, meaning, or positive relationships. Running a marathon may be a good example this factor being expressed.
Positive Relationships, or friends and loved ones. As Seligman writes, "other people are the best antidote to the downs in life and the single most reliable up." If you think about the times you laugh hardest or experience the strongest feelings of joy or purpose, those are likely shared experiences (Seligman argues). In short, much that is good in life is about good buddies.
Seligman developed PERMA after noting inadequacies in the way that "happiness" was traditionally measured. Upon review, it was found that the measure most often used to self-report life satisfaction is linked more closely to our present mood (70%) than to how we judge our life to be going at any moment (30%). If you're like me, your own experience might confirm this. My self-assessment of my own happiness more-often relates to short-term gains and losses than to my larger goals. That my self-assessment is often negative makes PERMA all the more valuable. By making positive emotion but one component of a five-factor model, PERMA makes well-being available even to those of us who have a tendency to be less "happy" than others seem to be.
The goal of positive psychology is to promote flourishing. Flourishing has been operationalized as displaying each of three core features (positive emotion, engagement/interest, and meaning/purpose) and at least three of six additional features (self-esteem, optimism, resilience, vitality, self-determination, and positive relationships). Google's definition of the term is more useful short-hand:
1. (of a person, animal, or other living organism) grow or develop in a healthy or vigorous way, esp. as the result of a particularly favorable environment.
When I think of flourishing, I think about reaching one's potential. I have found PERMA and other ideas from positive psychology immensely useful in growing nearer to what it's possible for me to be. I hope that you'll find them useful, too.