Motivation and emotion/Book/2020/PERMA model of well-being

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PERMA model of well-being:
What is the PERMA model of well-being?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Consider the following question:

"What really makes us happy?"

How often do you find yourself thinking of a similar question?

Suffering and well-being are both part of human nature and each should be significant for a person's mental health. Human qualities, success and prosperity are equally essential as human affliction. Every individual aspires to become the best version of themselves and live and succeed in life. People want to thrive, not just exist. The PERMA[stands for?] model of well-being provides a framework in which individuals can measure their wellbeing and increase their flourishing. By understanding and applying the principles to increase the PERMA elements individuals can increase their wellbeing and improve their lives.

What is the PERMA model of well-being?[edit | edit source]

Dr. Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania.
Figure 1. Dr. Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania.

The PERMA model of wellbeing is a universal framework developed by Martin Seligman an American psychologist, author and educator ("Martin E.P. Seligman | Positive Psychology Center", 2020). In 1998, as president of the American Psychological Association (APA) Seligman reformed the main goal of psychology from being focused on minimizing human suffering, and created a new focus on making life worth living (Seligman, 2011, p. 15). The beginning of a new field of psychology was born as a scientific and professional movement, called positive psychology (Seligman, 2011, p. 15). Positive psychology focuses on developing processes that encourage conditions of an enabling life through flourishing (Seligman, 2010, p. 232). Seligman (2011) describes human flourishing as the establishment of happiness, flow, meaning, love, gratitude, accomplishment, growth and better relationships.

Initially, Seligman developed the theory in[?] Authentic Happiness suggesting that the topic of positive psychology is happiness, the measure was life satisfaction and that the main goal of positive psychology was to increase life satisfaction (Seligman, 2011, p. 18). However, after re-examining the theory he reconstructed Authentic Happiness to a new theory called the Well-Being Theory (Seligman, 2011, p. 18). The well-being theory describes the topic of positive psychology as the well-being, flourishing as the measurement of the well-being and the goal of positive psychology is to increase flourishing for the individual (Seligman, 2011, p. 18).

Seligman (2011) demonstrates that well-being is a construct and it has measurable elements that respectively contribute to well-being. According to Seligman (2011), each element of well-being must contribute to well-being, be pursued by people for its own sake and not to get any of the other elements[say what?], be defined and measured independently of the other elements. PERMA is developed by the five elements of well-being which stand for positive emotion, engagement, meaning, positive relationships and accomplishment (Seligman, 2011, p. 21). The five PERMA elements have been examined and it has been shown that the [what?] measurement demonstrates reliability, stability over time, convergent and divergent validity (Butler & Kern, 2016).

Positive emotion[edit | edit source]

Seligman (2011) defines the element of positive emotion as a subjective measure describing happiness and life satisfaction. Emotions can be characterized as linear combinations of arousal and valence, two inherent and independent neurophysiological systems (Cacioppo, Berntson, Norris, & Gollan, 2011). Positive emotions are about feeling good, and can also include the optimistic expectation of what the future holds ("PERMA Model - Overview, Core Elements and Workplace Application", n.d.). Numerous studies demonstrate the progressive influence of positive emotion across a variety of life outcomes (Huppert, 2009; Lyubomirsky et al., 2005).

Lyobomirsky, King and Diener (2007) ran a review of studies to propose that happiness links with success in life because positive affect promotes success[awkward expression?]. The review was composed of 225 papers, 293 samples, including 275,000 participants and a calculation of 313 independent effect sizes. Cross-sectional studies, longitudinal studies and experimental studies were examined to achieve causality and test the model with consistency. The findings of the study show:

  • Happiness is positively correlated with indicators of physical health and greater mental health.
  • Frequent positive affect and happiness plays a significant role in health through its effects on healthy behaviour, social relationships, stress, accident, coping, suicide rates and possible aspects of the immune system.
  • Positive affect is associated with a range of desirable traits, including positive perceptions of self and others, sociability, activity, prosocial behaviour , popularity, healthy behaviour, immune functioning, conflict resolution, creativeness, problem-solving and good coping with distress. The finding suggests that these characteristics seem to promote active goal involvement that would enable success through adaptability in a range of aspects in life.
  • Happiness leads up to significant outcomes and signs of thriving, including productive and fulfilling work, satisfying relationships and better mental and physical health in the long term.
  • Positive emotions are significant to sociability and activity because they lead to desirable behaviours and resources such as extraversion and activity engagement.
  • Long-term happiness and short-term pleasant moods tend to result to desirable characteristics, resources and behaviours which are strongly correlated.
  • Happy moods tend to lead individuals to engagement with other people and the environment. They become more open, sensitive and venturesome to other individuals, which is linked with superior relationship closeness, activity, physical arousal, and feelings that express excitement, affection and affiliation.

The evidence of the study supported the proposal that happiness in an individual's life causes many of the successful outcomes which it correlates[awkward expression?]. The results show that positive effect and the characteristics that it promotes mediates the success of the individual. The study explained that happiness, that is caused by the personality and past experiences, leads to enabling behaviours that result to further success. Simultaneously, happiness is able to respond to any negative emotions when it is applicable[explain?]}.

Engagement[edit | edit source]

Engagement is an element that is assessed subjectively and refers to something a participant may get engaged in or absorbed into (Seligman, 2011). Csikszentmihalyi (1997) states that flow is achieved when a challenge is presented and then we have the opportunity to face it by using our greatest strengths. Flow and extreme levels of psychological engagement including intense focus, absorption and concentration are the common measures utilized in positive psychology to measure engagement (Butler & Kern, 2016). A study by Schaufeli, Bakker, & Salanova (2006) describes engagement at the workplace by the individual's dedication, absorption, vigour and professional efficacy. Educational engagement comprises academic, psychological, behavioural and cognitive aspects (Rotgans & Schmidt, 2011). Therefore, engagement includes emotional, cognitive and behavioural dimensions, but it is not yet clear what the complete measurement for engagement is (Butler & Kern, 2016).

Relationships[edit | edit source]

Social relationships describes the importance relationships have in the quality of an individual's life (Seligman, 2011). Research has shown that relationships built through marriage, friendships, partnerships and memberships in various organizations promote well-being by improving health, reducing exposure to stress and decreasing the effects of stress on health (Leffingwell, 1983). The number of people in an individual's circle, the amount and quality of social networks, the support that has been received and the support that has been perceived, the satisfaction of support and giving support to others are significant social aspects (Butler & Kern, 2016). Social support has been related to decreased suicidal tendency, chronic illness self-management, cardiovascular disease and higher rates of mortality, healthy behaviours and other positive results (Tay, Tan, Diener, & Gonzalez, 2012). It has been globally well-established that relationships play a key role in wellbeing.

Image of pie chart describing Seligman’s PERMA Model of Well-being.
Figure 2. Seligman’s PERMA Model of Well-being.

Meaning[edit | edit source]

Seligman (2012) describes meaning as the element of belonging, having direction, serving something larger than the self and feeling that there is a purpose what the individual does. Meaning provides a view that life is worthwhile, valuable and it matters (Butler & Kern, 2016). Meaning in life has been linked with better physical and mental health, wellbeing and longevity (Experiencing Meaning in Life Has Health Benefits, 2020). Studies have tested measurements for the meaning of life and they have reported differentiated measurements of the element, thus, further research needs to be undertaken to discover the dimensions of meaning in life (Hill et al., 2018; Kerry & Zika, 1988; Morgan & Farsides, 2009).

Accomplishment[edit | edit source]

Lastly, the fifth element of the PERMA model is accomplishments. Accomplishment provides to our wellbeing when we are able to look back on our lives with a sense of success and say ‘I did it, and I did it well’ (Seligman, 2012). Achieving and accomplishing a task can have significant positive and pleasurable feelings and a boost in self-esteem ("PERMA Model - Overview, Core Elements and Workplace Application", n.d.). Western cultures often recognize superior performance, for instance the greatest athletes are brought together every two years for the Olympics (Butler & Kern, 2016). Nevertheless, personal ambitions, environmental conditions and prospects also influence objective success (Butler & Kern, 2016). For example, a little boy learns to use cutlery while eating, and he continues using a spoon and a fork because he realizes how happy his mother is of him learning this. Working towards a goal, mastering, and the ability to produce a desired or intended result embrace the element of accomplishment (Butler & Kern, 2016). It has been demonstrated that achievement goal theory and self determination theory have delivered substantial insight into motivational and health related phenomenon (Duda & Appleton, 2016). Efficacy, mastery, competence include the main wellbeing measures of achievement, whereas surveys can include objective indicators of achievement as well (Butler & Kern, 2016).

What are the applications of the PERMA model of well-being?[edit | edit source]

The application of the PERMA model of well-being has been well researched across a large number of settings.

Workplace[edit | edit source]

Studying the well-being of employees at the workplace has become a very popular area of interest, and researchers have discovered various dimensions of work-related well-being (Kun, Balogh & Krasz, 2016). Problems that employees were facing at the workplace such as dissatisfaction, stress, tiredness, burnout were the initial focus of early research, however, the strengths of the employee and his or her well-being start to become the primary focus of current research (Kern, Waters, Adler & White, 2014).

Why is workplace well-being so important?

The experiences that people encounter at the workplace have a significant influence on the well-being of employees, their mental health, social functioning and performance (Kun, Balogh & Krasz, 2016). Well-being can influence significantly [awkward expression?] employees, employers and the organization in various ways (Pérez Mayo, Velazco, Roque, Guerrero & Nchez, 2019). Employees with poor wellbeing are likely to be less productive, produce lower quality of work and contribution to the organisation, are often absent from their workplace and more likely to not be committed to their organisation when a better opportunity rises (Price & Hooijberg, 1992). It has now been recognized that wellbeing can significantly influence the performance, job satisfaction, organisational commitment, motivation, engagement, efficiency of employees and the quality of workplace relationships that could lead to a superior organisational culture (Fisher, 2010).

PERMA has been utilized as a framework for culture change and institutional leadership to assist the staff, students and organization to flourish (Slavin, Schindler, Chibnall, Fendell & Shoss, 2012). The model including the actions that need to be taken for the increase of the PERMA elements is described on the table below:

Elements Actions
Positive Emotion
  1. Reduction of unnecessary stressors.
  2. Introduction of programs that promote resilience and coping.
  3. Transparency in decision making.
  1. Establishment of opportunities to engage fully in work by: reduction of unnecessary policies and extra administrative processes.
  2. Promotion of reflection and rewarding employees when they do a good job.
  1. Mentorship of staff, teaching sessions and development.
  2. Promotion of team activities.
  1. Create programs that workers have the choice to reflect on their work, can be reminded the positive values of the culture and positive influence they have by their work.
  2. Support of programs for staff to find greater meaning and enjoyment at their work.
  1. Promote innovation, creativity and progression.
  2. Celebrate, recognize and reward actions that support organization mission, goals and values.

A study that tested the wellbeing of school staff demonstrated that when employees were doing well across the majority of wellbeing elements of the PERMA model, then they were more committed to the workplace, and they were more satisfied with their jobs, health and life in general (Kern, Waters, Adler & White, 2014). Also, the study showed that job satisfaction and organizational commitment was strongly related with the elements of engagement and relationships, whereas life satisfaction and health were related with positive emotion, meaning and accomplishment (Kern, Waters, Adler & White, 2014). Likewise, Kun, Balogh & Krasz (2016) have demonstrated that positive relationships at the workplace is an immensely significant predictor of organisational commitment and job satisfaction. Moreover, their results showed that the elements of engagement and meaning of work were the factors that would influence the mental health of the employees through their experience of positive or negative emotions. Constructive feedback for employees focusing on strengthening their personal recourses[spelling?] to become better, organisational diagnosis and development, measuring employee satisfaction and career planning by setting personal goals for each employee creates a positive experience for the employees and the organisation as a whole (Kun, Balogh & Krasz, 2016).

Actions Employee Results Organization Results
Constructive feedback for employees
  • Positive feelings for role.
  • Working best to abilities.
  • Better cooperation with colleagues.
  • Enhances positive experience of work.
  • Increase of loyalty.
  • Commitment to the organization, the work, colleagues and tasks.
  • Decreased levels of absence, staff turnover and internal conflicts.
Organizational diagnosis and development
  • Identify strengths of employees.
  • Information for improvement and development.
  • Utilize strengths of employees identified to achieve the vision of the organization.
  • Provide information about healthy functioning of organization.
  • Identify level of performance, tension that indicate oganizational transformation.
Measure employee satisfaction
  • Focus on positive factors to strengthen satisfaction and motivation.
  • Better performance, self-efficacy, motivation and commitment to work.
Career planning and setting personal goals for each employee
  • Increase of motivation to perform better in the long term.
  • Continuing success and caring for work.
  • Maintaining motivation for individuals and team in the long term.

The study concluded that employees with high well-being are more productive than workers with lower wellbeing; they experience higher motivation to perform their duties and tasks; when change occurs they are more adaptable and resilient; they are more likely to engage with the organizations[grammar?] values, culture and goals (Kun, Balogh & Krasz, 2016). Therefore, by utilizing the PERMA model of wellbeing an organization can focus on increasing the wellbeing of the employees so they can have positive outcomes both for the staff and the organization.

Education[edit | edit source]

The prevalence of anxiety, distress and depression amongst the youth is astonishingly high (Seligman, 2012). The rapid changes of the 21st century in living conditions, lifestyle, methods of communication and lifestyle has impacted the youth and it has resulted to one in seven primary school aged children to be experiencing mental health problems in Australia alone (Gray, Beamish & Morey, 2020).

Why should wellbeing be taught at school?

Fifty years ago, the average age of first onset for depression was about thirty, now the first onset is below the age of fifteen (Seligman, 2012). This current increase of depression for younger ages and the very small increase of happiness over the last generations are significant reasons for well-being to be taught in schools (Seligman, 2012). Also, positive education promotes learning, creativity, increases life satisfaction and social cohesion (Seligman, 2012; Waters, 2011). Academic achievement, fewer risky behaviours, better physical health in adulthood, resilience, better self-awareness and emotional intelligence have been linked as features developed from positive education in a young age (Kern, Waters, Adler & White, 2015; Waters, 2011).

Seligman (2012) and his research team tested a program to explore whether well-being can be taught to schools. The Penn Resiliency Program included a diverse sample of students with a variety of group leaders (Seligman, 2012). The goals of the program were to increase student's[grammar?] ability to handle common challenges during adolescence, promote optimism, resilience, confidence, creativity, decision making, relaxation and other coping skills (Seligman, 2012). The training and supervision of the group leaders, as well as the fidelity of the curriculum delivery were proven to be critical for the Penn Resiliency Program (Seligman, 2012). The curriculum for the program consisted of longer than twenty minute sessions that included discussion of character strengths, other positive psychology concepts, a weekly in-class activity, homework with real-world implications and journal reflections (Seligman,2012). Example of the exercises included in the curriculum can be found on the table below:

Exercises Description
Three-Good-Things Exercise (What-Went-Well) The students were directed to write down three positive things that happened daily for a week.

The three things can be minor in importance ("I solved a hard mathematical equation today") or major in importance ("The girl I have been asking out for months said yes!").

Next to each positive thing of the day, the students have to write about one of the following: "Why did this good thing happen?" "What does this mean to you?" "How can you have more of this good thing in the future?"

Using Signature Strengths in New Ways Students were instructed to take the Values in Action Signature Strengths test and use their greatest strength in a new way at school for next week.

The program was focused on discovering character strengths in themselves, their friends, characters they read about and using their strengths to overcome challenges.

The program demonstrated that positive education decreased and prevented symptoms of depression; reduced hopelessness by increasing optimism and wellbeing; prevented clinical levels of depression and anxiety; reduced and prevented anxiety; reduced conduct problems such as aggression and delinquency; worked equally for children of different ethnic backgrounds; improved health-related behaviours such as exercise and better diet (Seligman, 2012). It has been demonstrated that a multidimensional approach to well-being is profitable for schools and allows them to create a developmental plan for the promotion of the wellbeing of their students in the long term (Kern, Waters, Adler & White, 2015).

Psychotherapy, Coaching & Counselling[edit | edit source]

The PERMA model of wellbeing can also be used to improve wellbeing during psychotherapy, coaching and counselling. Positive psychology teaches the specific skills on how to have more positive emotion, more engagement, more meaning, more accomplishment and better human relationships so the individual can flourish and become the best version of himself or herself (Seligman, 2012). The PERMA model is giving to therapists, coaches and counsellors a framework that does not focus on the skills of minimizing misery, but highlights the self-sustaining skills that individuals can develop to flourish (Seligman, 2011). Studies have shown that exercises such as the Three-Good-Things exercise and the signature strengths exercise have substantially increased happiness in 6 months of utilizing them and decreased depression in the first three to six months (Seligman, 2012). Seligman (2011) suggests that getting patients in touch with their strengths is significantly more beneficial than just trying to correct their weaknesses. The below case story was published on Seligman's book, Flourish in 2011.

Case study: Applying PERMA Exercises for Depression

Client is a 36-year-old female who is working full time. She is currently a patient who attends counselling and medication for the treatment of depression. I have been working with her for eight weeks and have been utilizing the strategies from the PERMA course in the same sequence that we learned. One exercise that worked especially well and decreased the depression of the client by increasing her wellbeing is the "Three-Good-Things" exercise.

She mentioned that she had forgotten all of these positives from the past. We used this to transition to "blessings", which we described as "happy moments every day", which has helped her to see her daily life more positively.

In short, everything has "worked" very well. Her scores on the scales from the tests are much more positive than before, and she credits the coaching process very strongly.

Adapted from Seligman (2011).

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

The PERMA model of well-being states that well-being is the topic of positive psychology and that well-being is a construct. Well-being has five measurable elements. These elements are positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and achievement. Each element contributes to well-being. The goal of the PERMA model is to measure and increase the amount of flourishing in an individual's life. Helping individuals to identify their strengths and use them to build on coping skills and self-improvement gives individuals a framework that can utilize to flourish and become the best version of themselves in a professional, academic or personal setting.

Although the PERMA model has demonstrated psychometric properties across a diverse sample and settings, there is limited work testing predictive and convergent validity[explain - a model is not a measurement instrument?]. As illustrated by Butler & Kern (2016) the item order and sensitivity of elements to change with intervention should be further examined. Further research should test judgement biases, cultural distinctions, response time and steadiness over a long period of time across the usage of the PERMA model of well-being (Butler & Kern, 2016). Future research should focus on testing whether the PERMA model will establish to become the most appropriate measure of well-being within diverse applications and settings.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Butler, Julie & Kern, Margaret. (2016). The PERMA-Profiler: A brief multidimensional measure of flourishing. 6. 1-48. 10.5502/ijw.v6i3.526.

Cacioppo, J. T., Berntson, G. G., Norris, C. J., & Gollan, J. K. (2011). The evaluative space model. In P. Van Lange, A. Kruglanski & E. T. Higgins (Eds.), Handbook of theories of social psychology (Vol. 1). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997). The masterminds series.Finding flow: The psychology of engagement with everyday life. Basic Books.

Experiencing Meaning in Life Has Health Benefits. (2020). Healthy Years, 17(5), 2.

Fisher, C.D. (2010), Happiness at Work. International Journal of Management Reviews, 12: 384-412. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2370.2009.00270.x

Gray, A., Beamish, P., & Morey, P. (2020). Flourish: The impact of an intergenerational program on third-grade students’ social and emotional wellbeing with application to the PERMA framework. TEACH Journal of Christian Education,14(1), 26-37. Retrieved from

Hill, Clara & Kline, Kathryn & Miller, Matthew & Marks, Ellen & Pinto-Coelho, Kristen & Heidi, Zetzer. (2018). Development of the Meaning in Life Measure. Counselling Psychology Quarterly. 1-22. 10.1080/09515070.2018.1434483.

Huppert, F. A. (2009). Psychological well-being: Evidence regarding its causes and consequences. Applied Psychology: Health and Well-being, 1(2), 137-164.

Joan L. Duda, Paul R. Appleton, Chapter 17 - Empowering and Disempowering Coaching Climates: Conceptualization, Measurement Considerations, and Intervention Implications, Editor(s): Markus Raab, Paul Wylleman, Roland Seiler, Anne-Marie Elbe, Antonis Hatzigeorgiadis, Sport and Exercise Psychology Research, Academic Press, 2016, Pages 373-388, ISBN 9780128036341,

Kern, M. , Waters, L. , Adler, A. & White, M. (2014). Assessing Employee Wellbeing in Schools Using a Multifaceted Approach: Associations with Physical Health, Life Satisfaction, and Professional Thriving. Psychology, 5, 500-513. doi: 10.4236/psych.2014.56060.

Kern, M. L., Waters, L. E., Adler, A., & White, M. A. (2015). A multidimensional approach to measuring well-being in students: Application of the PERMA framework. The journal of positive psychology, 10(3), 262–271.

Kerry Chamberlain, Sheryl Zika, Measuring meaning in life: An examination of three scales, Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 9, Issue 3, 1988, Pages 589-596, ISSN 0191-8869,

Kun, Agota & Balogh, Peter & Krasz, Katalin. (2016). Development of the work-related well-being questionnaire based on Seligman’s PERMA model. 10.13140/RG.2.1.4492.0567.

Leffingwell, R. J. (1983). Public Relations Quarterly, 28(4), 26.

Lyubomirsky, S., King, L. A., & Diener, E. (2005). The benefits of frequent positive affect: Does happiness lead to success? Psychological Bulletin, 131(6), 803-855.

Martin E.P. Seligman | Positive Psychology Center. (2020). Retrieved 12 October 2020, from

Morgan, J., Farsides, T. Measuring Meaning in Life. J Happiness Stud 10, 197–214 (2009).

Pascha, M. (2020). The PERMA Model: Your Scientific Theory of Happiness. Retrieved 30 August 2020, from

Pérez Mayo, Augusto & Velazco, Egrh & Roque, Nohemí & Guerrero, Pablo & Nchez, Sá. (2019). Working Happiness in the Human Resource of a University Organization Based on Seligman's PERMA Model. The International Journal of Human Resource Management. 09. 101-109.

PERMA Model - Overview, Core Elements and Workplace Application. Retrieved 30 August 2020, from

PERMA™ Theory of Well-Being and PERMA™ Workshops | Positive Psychology Center. (2020). Retrieved 30 August 2020, from

Price, R. H., & Hooijberg, R. (1992). Organizational exit pressures and role stress: Impact on mental health. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 13(7), 641–651.

Rotgans, J. I., & Schmidt, H. G. (2011). Cognitive engagement in the problem-based learning classroom. Advances in health sciences education : theory and practice, 16(4), 465–479.

Schaufeli, W. B., Bakker, A. B., & Salanova, M. (2006). The measurement of work engagement with a short questionnaire: A cross-national study. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 66(4), 701-716.

Seligman, M. (2010). Flourish: Positive Psychology and Positive Interventions. Retrieved 12 October 2020, from

Seligman, M. (2011). Flourish. Sydney: Penguin Random House Australia.

Seligman, M. (2012). PERMA. Retrieved 30 August 2020, from

Slavin, Stuart J., MD, MEd; Schindler, Debra, PhD; Chibnall, John T., PhD; Fendell, Ginny, MSW; Shoss, Mindy, PhD PERMA, Academic Medicine: November 2012 - Volume 87 - Issue 11 - p 1481 doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e31826c525a

Slavin SJ, Schindler D, Chibnall JT, Fendell G, Shoss M. PERMA: a model for institutional leadership and culture change. Acad Med. 2012 Nov;87(11):1481. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e31826c525a. PMID: 23111270.

Tay, L., Tan, K., Diener, E., & Gonzalez, E. (2012). Social relations, health behaviors, and health outcomes: A survey and synthesis. Applied Psychology: Health and Well-being, 5(1), 28-78.

Waters, L. (2011). A Review of School-Based Positive Psychology Interventions. The Australian Educational and Developmental Psychologist, 28(2), 75-90. doi:10.1375/aedp.28.2.75

External links[edit | edit source]