Dr. Martin Seligman’s PERMA Model –
In last week’s blog entry, we discussed the cultivation of positive emotion, as outlined in the PERMA Model. If you missed this discussion, feel free to go back through the blog archives to catch up on the initial entries in our Well-Being Challenge. In this week’s blog entry we will be addressing Engagement (“E”) in pleasurable or meaningful events, activities, or projects. It is hypothesized that meaningful engagement is a critical component of cultivating well-being.
“E” is for Engagement –
Most simply, engagement refers to those times in which we become completely immersed in an activity or project. Dr. Seligman links this experience with the often used construct of “flow.” Those of you who follow sports may be familiar with the term flow, which refers to the single-minded or complete absorption in a task. Often, athletes report a feeling of flow while competing, during which time they feel completely engaged in the task at hand, and often retrospectively report not remembering or acknowledging anything else occurring around them. Sometimes it helps to think about it like this – think back to the last time that you drove somewhere and suddenly ended up at your destination with little recall for the time that had elapsed or the sights you saw along the way. Flow is almost the exact opposite of this experience but includes the feeling of having time pass rapidly and unexpectedly. However, instead of being checked out mindlessly, you are so engaged in and aware of the nuances of the activity that you are pursuing, that everything else around you fades away and you may even lose track of time.
Keeping in mind the idea of flow, Seligman argues that engagement in activities that become completely immersive and pleasurable often create a sense of well-being for people. However, it is important to note that engagement is a subjective construct that involves using individuals’ retrospective reports of feelings of flow. For example, an individual may choose to begin working on a painting and after several hours reemerge from the task feeling a keen sense of enjoyment. This person may then look back and notice how absolutely engaged and absorbed they were in painting and realize that they have just spent a significant amount of time completing a very fulfilling project. Events like this can then be used to help shape future behavior and to provide us with important information about what adds meaning and vitality to our days.
Data would now suggest that fulfilling engagement in pleasurable tasks or activities is correlated with increased well-being, such that individuals who find themselves frequently engaging in flow-inducing activities often report higher levels of positive emotion (as discussed last week) and overall life satisfaction. Interestingly, Seligman’s research has determined that engagement in immersive and enjoyable activities is something that can be measured separately from the other elements of PERMA. This means that even if you may struggle with cultivating the other components of PERMA, simply incorporating “engagement” into your daily or weekly behavioral repertoire can be enough to contribute to increased well-being. At Equanimity Partners, we often help clients to identify activities and tasks that help provide meaning and fulfillment within their lives. We then help clients to create behavioral action plans to achieve these goals. The end results of these interventions are often quite remarkable. Specifically, identifying unique values and goals related to engagement often helps clients cultivate increased insight into what is meaningful in their lives. Next, such clinical interventions often help clients to organize and structure their lives in a manner that is consistent with their individual wishes and desires for fulfillment and engagement – unsurprisingly, living in this manner often also leads to increased well-being.
Exercises in Cultivating Increased Engagement –
1. In the service of bringing mindfulness to those events that have contributed to your own experiences with flow, try to create a list of past events or activities that have generated a feeling of complete absorption. If this is a struggle for you, try to begin small and just notice activities or tasks that have created a sense of fulfillment. You can then build from there.
2. After creating the aforementioned list, try incorporating at least three of these activities or experiences into your next week. Remember you can always start small – for example, maybe reading a chapter from a new book is enough to transport you into a feeling of complete engagement. This is a quick activity that can be done at any time of the day and is consistent with “engagement”.
You can find a complete discussion of the PERMA model in Dr. Seligman’s book: Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being (2011).
We hope that you have found this week’s discussion of engagement interesting. Next week we will be exploring Positive Relationships – the “R” in PERMA. As always, please feel free to leave a comment or question in the comments section of this blog. All respectful insights are welcomed!
– The Equanimity Partners Staff