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The PERMA Model of Well-Being

How these five pillars can help alter your life

By Jill (Conquering Cognitions)Published about a year ago 5 min read
Image by Zigmars Berzins from Pixabay

In my mid-twenties, I moved to Washington D.C. for an internship at a large medical center, a position that I desperately wanted and was thrilled to receive. I was excited about the hospital, the training opportunities, and the chance to live in D.C. for a year with a real paycheck.

A few weeks into the internship, I felt my mood begin to shift. I was doing challenging and rewarding work that kept me busy most of the time, but something was missing. I felt lonely.

After eight years of functioning within a college environment with built-in activities and peer groups, I was alone in a new city with no friends.

During my first lonely weeks of living in D.C., I had plenty of time to think about what was missing in my life. When I grew tired of feeling sorry for myself, I considered what I could do differently, and Dr. Martin Seligman’s PERMA model was my guide.

The Five Pillar PERMA Model

Seligman, the founder of the positive psychology movement, developed a well-being model which includes five core components: positive emotion (P), engagement (E), relationships (R), meaning (M), and accomplishments (A).

Positive emotion: our well-being improves when we find ways to increase or savor positive emotions in our daily life, such as hope, joy, and optimism.

Engagement: well-being increases when we spend time in activities that use our strengths (core competencies) and fuel our passion.

Relationships: positive social interactions and adequate social support help us thrive.

Meaning: spending time in pursuits that are meaningful and helpful to the larger good improves our well-being.

Accomplishments: we find more life satisfaction when we engage in goal-directed activities.

Seligman believes that focusing efforts on these five pillars helps a person thrive and flourish in their life, thus creating a happier, more well-balanced existence.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

The Missing Relationships

Looking at my life through the PERMA lens, I realized that I was checking the box on most of the core components, except for one.

I was working at a challenging and rewarding job (E) that provided numerous opportunities to help others (M). I had career goals (A) and was optimistic about my future (P), but I was lonely (-R).

I needed more social interactions, especially during the long weekend hours. Thankfully, I lived in Washington D.C. which offered plenty of activities and opportunities.

As a history lover, I decided to spend every available Saturday and Sunday exploring the amazing museums, monuments, and historic districts all around me. This would provide a little social interaction, albeit mostly with strangers, while doing something that I loved.

I made a list of the “must-see” sites which was an impressive 300+ items long— a lofty goal for just one year.

During the week, I researched and planned my weekend adventures, mapping out the Metro stops and most efficient ways to combine multiple points of interest. It became a challenge to see how many things I could check off my list every weekend.

Throughout the year, I pursued leisure activities that brought me joy and allowed for more social interactions, and I began to feel a noticeable shift in my mood. Although I was still technically alone, I was no longer lonely.

Happiness found me when I focused on the missing “R” from the PERMA model.

Image by Denise Husted from Pixabay

Applying the PERMA Model to Your Life

I was lucky that I was only missing one pillar from Seligman’s well-being model. Adults today may face different and more significant challenges.

If you are struggling with decreased well-being and unhappiness, consider this model in your life. Are you missing some of these core components? Below are a few questions that can provide some initial direction as you examine your life.

Positive Emotion

What makes you feel good? It is helpful to pay attention to those times when you find yourself smiling, laughing, or experiencing an overall sense of peace. How can you increase these moments?


What is an activity that is fully immersive and makes time pass so quickly that you hardly notice it? What is something that you do better than most people?

Make time for activities that use your strengths and that you have a passion for pursuing. If you love to cook and people often compliment you on your meals, this is an activity that should be a regular part of your routine. Engagement is similar to finding your flow state.

Positive Relationships

Do you have enough social support in your life? If not, can you invest more time in existing relationships, or do you need to find new outlets for social interactions?

We can meet our connection needs through interactions with colleagues, friends, family, and acquaintances. It can be a long conversation with a close friend, or simply sharing space with people who are enjoying the same museum. Positive interactions with others support our happiness.


What provides meaning or a sense of purpose in your life? Is there something you do that contributes to the world’s collective well-being?

One might find this meaning through their career, volunteer activities, writing, or any number of pursuits. When we know that we are giving back to our world in a meaningful way, we experience increased life satisfaction.


Where do you see yourself one year from now? Is it where you want to be? If not, what goals can you pursue that will help you move in a different direction?

These goals can be in any area of your life — work, relationships, health. By establishing and working towards goals, we provide ourselves with an opportunity to be successful. Through this success, we feel a sense of pride and accomplishment, two positive emotions that contribute to happiness.

Final Thoughts

A year after arriving in D.C., I moved again, but this time I was armed with life skills that made the transition smoother. Happiness is not always easy, and it takes effort to maintain.

As Dr. Seligman explains, positive psychology is “descriptive, not prescriptive.” As you think about his PERMA model, consider how you can personalize the approach to your life.

We make choices every day in how we live our lives, and these choices matter.

This article was first published on Medium.

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About the Creator

Jill (Conquering Cognitions)

Outdoor Enthusiast | Animal Lover | Mom to Five | Psychologist Turned Writer

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  • caldwell benis8 months ago

    Great writing

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