Positive Psychology is the scientific study of what makes humans and communities flourish, it’s approach is essentially the opposite of traditional psychology models which are underpinned by a focus on putting ‘right’ what is ‘wrong’.
Martin Seligman is one of the founders of Positive Psychology and he proposed that there are 5 elements that contribute to flourishing, he summarises these using the acronym PERMA (Seligman, 2011):
Whilst it is inevitable that we cannot experience positive emotions such as pleasure, joy and contentment all the time, we do need to focus on ensuring positive feelings feature in our lives on a regular basis.
Engagement refers to being fully happily engaged in an activity that keeps you very much in the present, this links to the experience of flow (a state where you are completely absorbed in an activity, it often comes with a distorted perception of time, where for example time has passed quickly without you noticing). The activities that achieve this are different for different people, examples are a hobby, a project that interests you, playing a musical instrument or playing sport.
As a species, humans are hard-wired to be social creatures, as such positive relationships are key to our wellbeing. This stems from our evolutionary past where the need to belong to a social group was essential to our survival. Although in the modern world, we are able to survive even if we are isolated from others, because our evolution has not yet caught up with this, loneliness is very damaging. Humans thrive when we have close emotional and physical connections with others, for example family, friends, neighbours, work colleagues.
This refers to having a reason for you being in this world. Our religion, choice of job, voluntary work are just some example of what may connect us to our sense of why we are here.
Working towards and achieving goals related things that are important to us is important for our sense of wellbeing. However, this element of the model can be difficult to manage; we need to ensure the goals are realistic and that we are not pursuing them at the expense of other elements of the PERMA model.
Positive Psychology Interventions
So how can to ensure you incorporate elements from each of Seligman’s 5 areas into your life? Below you will find suggested evidence-based Positive Psychology interventions, that I have fitted around the PERMA model, that you may want to consider trying out.
Research shows that Gratitude Interventions increase positive affect (McCullough et al, 2002; Emmons & McCullough, 2003; Emmons, 2007). In turn, positive affect can lead to greater psychological wellbeing, resilience and better physical health (Davidson et al, 2003; Folkman & Moskowitz, 2000; Fredrickson et al, 2003).
One quick and simple Gratitude Intervention is ‘Three Good Things’ (Seligman et al, 2005). Each day for one week, write down three things that went well and also write down what caused each thing to go well.
It has been found that strengths use is associated with improved levels of work and academic engagement (Van Woerkom et al, 2015; Quinlan et al, 2014).
Do you know what your strengths are? Take a free survey at:
Next, use one of your top five strengths in a new and different way every day for one week (Seligman et al, 2005).
Random acts of kindness is a Positive Psychology intervention that is associated with positive results for the wellbeing of both the giver and receiver, including building trust and acceptance in relationships, promoting the development of social bonds and promoting positive social interaction (Bartlett & DeSteno, 2006; Musick & Wilson, 2003; Wills, 1991). Acts of kindness don’t need to be big things, they can be very subtle. They are acts that you do intentionally without the expectation of receiving anything in return and have some cost involved to you, in terms of time or effort for example. Some ideas for the current time where we find ourselves at home, are:
- Sending an e-card or arrange for a card to be delivered to someone using an online site such as ‘Moonpig’.
- Is your partner having a stressful day trying to work from home and juggle kids? Make them their favourite drink and give them some of their favourite biscuits.
- Gone to the supermarket? Let the person behind you in the queue go first.
- Run your partner a bath and give them some time out.
- Do a quick maintenance check on your partner’s/son’s/daughter’s car by checking oil, water and tyres for example.
What can you add to the list of ideas?
Try committing to 5 acts of kindness a day for one week, but vary the things you do.
Meaning interventions lead to improved levels of meaning and greater life satisfaction (Steger et al, 2014).
Again, it’s very quick and simple. Take 9-12 photos of things that give your life meaning. One week later, review and describe your photos.
Our highest level of human need is the achievement of our potential, being the best we can be (Maslow, 1943). Accomplishment links with meaning and engagement and is about setting realistic goals to help you to achieve what is important to you. Using your strengths makes this easier, as you are likely to be more engaged and will find it easier as it’s something you are good at. Goals that align with your values (what is important to you) positively impacts on your wellbeing (Sheldon, 2010). It is the progress you make towards your goals that are good for wellbeing, rather than goal attainment itself (Boniwell & Tunariu, 2019). So always have in your mind what will come next after you have achieved what you are currently working on.
Produced by Dr Victoria Tyrer-Davies, Principal Educational Psychologist, Flying Colours Educational Psychology Service Ltd. © All Rights Reserved.
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