Years ago in my life coach training when my life was feeling over full and unbalanced, I was re-introduced to the PERMA model of well-being. Developed by the founder of the Positive Psychology movement, Martin Seligman, this model includes five buckets - Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Achievement - that comprise how we create a well-balanced life. Seligman recommends that you deliberately choose how you distribute your time and energy into the five PERMA buckets. When you feel unbalanced – when you're spending too much time in Achievement as you're meeting a goal at work, for example - you use the PERMA model to redistribute your time, energy, and attention back to what feels better.
Here’s a description of each of the PERMA categories:
• Positive Emotions - Making room in your life for what makes you feel good. Creating positive emotions, like contentment, peace, happiness, pleasure, joy, and excitement through what you do and by feeling optimistic.
• Engagement - Having opportunities to get into what psychologist and author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls flow: becoming so absorbed in an activity that you lose sense of time.
• Relationships - Spending time and committing to relationships that sustain and fulfill you.
• Meaning - Creating opportunities that matter to you. Focusing your attention on matters that are greater than yourself.
• Accomplishment - Working on activities and projects that give you a sense of achievement. Setting and achieving goals.
Everyone is different with how they distribute their “units of happiness" into the five buckets. If you have a strong drive to succeed at work, you might have more happy points in the Achievement bucket. Or maybe you find joy in helping others in your community, so when you allocate more time toward activities that bring Meaning in your life, you feel happier.
I had originally learned about the flow state in college classes but hadn’t realized its importance to my happiness until I lost the time to be engaged in flow, and then found it again. The awareness of how I felt without flow compared to my happiness while in flow changed how I managed my time, and what activities I filled my time with.
Making the PERMA Model Work For You
Here’s an exercise so you can do to see how this works.
• Download this handout of the PERMA buckets.
• Now, count out 20 small items – like pennies, M&Ms, Cheerios, goldfish crackers … These items will be your “units of happiness.”
• Think about a time in your life when your life felt balanced, when you felt happy.
• As you think about that time, imagine how many units of happiness were going into each of the PERMA buckets. Distribute your 20 small items into the five different categories.
• Make a note of your PERMA well-balanced score on the lines under the PERMA circles.
• Move your units of happiness out of the way and think about your life as it is right now. How do you allocate your 20 bits of happiness? Where are you putting your most time and your most energy regularly?
• Write your current PERMA score underneath your well-balanced score.
Maybe there’s a disparity between your Meaning scores. If your best balanced time came when you were volunteering each week for a cause you felt passionate about, you might feel happier now by adding more meaning into your life. What tiny, beautiful thing can you do to create more purpose in your life right now?
You might see a big difference between your Positive Emotions scores. Perhaps there aren’t many options right now to create positive emotions; you’re too busy or too overwhelmed. Rick Hanson, psychologist and author of Hardwiring Happiness, says that recalling positive experiences from the past has the same positive benefit on the brain as creating new ones. Take 30 seconds once or twice a day to re-experience a positive memory, diving deep into your recollection of the event to make it vivid in your mind, allowing the positive emotions warm you up from the inside out.
For me, creating more well-being in my life right now means finding time for more Engagement. Preparing the craft project for my upcoming coaching + crafts moms group helped raise my happiness quite a bit and I'm marking off time in my calendar for more creative endeavors. I'm delighted with the linked test tube vases I made. They turned out a lot like how I see my happiness and well-being: wonderfully imperfect and a bit wobbly, needing my attention to make sure they're balanced just right.
The Well-Crafted Mom's gathering for mothers this month is focused on finding, losing, and returning to balance again and again. The mini-retreats are made up of small groups of lovely moms who come together for conversation, compassion, and creativity. To save your spot in the Wednesday evening or Saturday mini-retreat, register here.
I'm a mother of two incredible boys, wife to Bill White of Happy Baby Signs, author of the books The Well-Crafted Mom and Signs of a Happy Baby, and an intuitive life coach. I like to blog about my adventures with my family and the life lessons I'm learning along the way. I hope you'll join me on this journey.
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