Dr. Martin Seligman’s PERMA Model –
In last week’s blog entry, we addressed what it means to be “happy” and referenced the world’s foremost expert on positive emotion: Dr. Martin Seligman.
In his most recent book: Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being (2011), Dr. Seligman outlines a construct he refers to as PERMA. In actuality, PERMA is an acronym for the five components that Dr. Seligman believes contribute to a sense of overall well-being. In today’s blog entry we will be discussing the “P” in PERMA – Positive Emotion.
“P” is for Positive Emotion –
Dr. Seligman explains that positive emotion is one of the pillars upon which well-being rests. Within the category of positive emotion lie feelings such as happiness, peacefulness, security, life satisfaction, pleasure, love, etc. Importantly, the idea of “happiness” is only one emotion which resides in this category, thereby making room for other important aspects of positivity.
If you are interested in exploring your own level of positive emotion in a relatively objective manner, Dr. Seligman has provided a number of empirically validated measures on his website: http://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu. For example, the Gratitude Questionnaire allows you to assess your appreciation for past events, while the Work-Life Questionnaire provides a composite score of work-life satisfaction. Additional measures explore constructs of optimism, compassion, forgiveness, and strength of character – all of which can help create a more nuanced understanding of positivity.
Because the pillar of positive emotion includes many components, it may be important to spend some time exploring the various positive emotions that you see arising in your everyday life. Simply exploring the nature of positive emotion can begin to help individuals recognize that “happiness” is not the end all be all of positivity. In fact, even if you wouldn’t describe yourself as a “happy” person, you may find that you are a particularly appreciative or satisfied person. The key idea is to recognize that positive emotion is much more than what is depicted in the general media. In fact cultivating positive emotion is indeed an achievable goal; whereas becoming “happy” can often be a dead-end road leading to additional hardship.
At Equanimity Partners, we are committed to helping individuals cultivate a life worth living. Importantly, our goal is not to eradicate human suffering and rid individuals of negative emotion, but instead to help people get into contact with things that are good and meaningful in their lives. That’s not to say that we are not interested in helping to alleviate suffering, but often this lessening of pain comes alongside becoming more mindful of what is positive in one’s life. Importantly, this goal is very much in line with Dr. Seligman’s research on cultivating positive emotion in one’s life. Specifically, Dr. Seligman conducted a study in which individuals were asked to write down five positive things that had happened during the day. Individuals were asked to complete this task before going to bed each night and to include both large and small items. For example, drinking a favorite coffee drink outside would be counted in the same way as attending a favorite concert. After completing this exercise for a period of time, participants in the study had not only begun to experience an increase in positive emotion, but had also experienced a decrease in negative emotion and depressive symptoms. How inspiring! Simply getting into contact with the good in one’s life was enough to help begin to lessen emotional suffering.
Exercises in Cultivating Positive Emotion –
1. In the service of cultivating positive emotion, let’s begin a positive events journal. Try to keep track of at least three to five positive events that happen each day. It is important to write down these events daily and not to wait and group them at the end of the week. The goal is to become increasingly more mindful of the positive that is happening on a daily basis. Remember to include big and small items. And remember, it’s ok if you’re having a bad day – the goal is to just try to become cognizant of any positive events (e.g. using a favorite lotion, receiving something in the mail, watching a favorite t.v. show, etc.).
2. If you feel like it may be useful, spend some time exploring Dr. Seligman’s website (listed above). Create a user profile and explore some of the questionnaires. It just may surprise you when you begin to consider different aspects of positive emotion and how they impact you on a daily basis.
We hope that you have found this week’s discussion of positive emotion useful and we in turn hope that you will join us next week as we explore “Engagement” – the “E” in PERMA. Also, feel free to leave a remark or question in the comment section of this blog entry. We welcome all forthright and respectful discussion!
The Equanimity Partners Staff