Ever heard of a little thing called Positive Psychology? This philosophy aims to shift the focus of psychology away from mental illness and pathology to studying what makes life worth living. The goal is to work with patients in a more constructive way. i.e., helping them to leverage positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, accomplishments, health, and spirituality as a means for achieving good mental health. This is known as the PERMAHS model, researched and developed by Dr. Martin Seligman. Marty, as he has mentioned he prefers to be called, is a self styled pessimist who has worked with depression throughout his life – who’d want to find the bright side more than him!?
The problem we often see is that no matter how successful a person is (measured against the traditional values of society as we know it), mental health struggles still remain a prominent concern. So the question is, if the people who have the high paying jobs, the big house, the 2.5 kids and the white picket fence are still going through their own debilitating existential crises, how do those of us who are “different” even stand a chance? This has been a theme for a while now, shown in works such as the Feminine Mystique, Man in a Gray Flannel Jacket, Death of a Salesman, Fight Club, and American Beauty (to name a few of very many). We expect midlife, existential crisis to come along. The question is often, if I’ve done everything I’m supposed to, why do I still hate my life kind of?
The answer lies in exploring Positive Psychology and discovering how to make PERMAHS work for you. This can look like being proactive in your pursuit of better overall wellbeing through PERMAHS while also decreasing your experience with psychological distress.
What PERMA can do for You
The “P” in PERMA stands for positive emotion. Things like optimism, curiosity, joy, love, faith, compassion, pride, delight, and gratitude. Cultivating positive emotions like these promote success, not necessarily as defined by society, but in a way that feels right for you as an individual. They can also counteract the less than desirable effects of negative emotions and increase resilience. Take time to practice integrating positive emotions into your everyday life. Integrating and savoring your good feelings can help change negative thought patterns into more positive ones. Here is where you can see what your top strengths are, and here is where you can learn more about those strengths.
“E” is for engagement, or being engaged in the moments of your life. This can also be thought of as mindfulness, living more consciously, or existing in a state of “flow.” With continued practice, making the effort to be mindful, or engaged in our experiences can help us reduce intrusive thoughts, negative emotions, anxious spirals and depressive lows. Practice engagement by participating in activities you truly enjoy, spending time in observation of nature, and utilizing your personal character strengths to do things at which you excel. Anything you do, that when you do it, it feels like no time is passing.
The “R” represents relationships. Although society often encourages us to be independent and self-sufficient, the truth is, human beings are social creatures. We all enjoy varying degrees of social activity, so the key lies in finding social connections and networks that fit your personal style of social engagement and interest. Engaging in “right relationships” can decrease feelings of loneliness, promote positive feelings, improve confidence, and increase motivation. Being ethically nonmonogamous, whether polyamorous or swinger or whatever else, can be enormous here.
“M” refers to finding meaning or purpose in life. Feeling connected to a purpose gives us a reason to get up in the morning, inspires passion and zest for life, and can even help us get through difficult circumstances and trying times. Meaning in life can mean different things to different people and will likely look different for everyone. Plus, there are a variety of ways to find meaning – professionally, socially, politically, creatively, religiously/spiritually, through extracurricular activities, volunteer service, and/or community engagement.
“A” points us toward accomplishments. Having goals to work towards can contribute to your overall wellbeing and promote positive emotions such as pride and passion. Working towards achievement gives us something constructive to focus on, facilitates personal improvement, and allows us to exercise our skills. Take time to reflect on past achievements, consider new goals and celebrate every win, big and small.
“H” indicates treating our body well. Loving ourselves by eating food that is good for us, getting a little exercise in a couple times a week, and as available talking to medical professionals. I know that’s a big oof as our healthcare system can be “challenging”.
Finally the “S” for spirituality does not mean religion specifically. It speaks to finding connection to something bigger than ourselves that has meaning. Some find this in church, some in family, projects, volunteer work, or community.
Positive Psychology gives us the power to positively impact and actively improve our own mental health and personal wellbeing on our own. That doesn’t mean it’s easy or that you have to do it alone. Get friends and family involved, find a support group, or find a therapist to help you work through each letter of PERMAHS. With therapy, you can discover news tools to help you actively work through Positive Psychology and develop a stronger understanding of yourself and your personal needs.
If you’re ready to dive in, you can schedule a brief, free consultation with me today. Use the form below to get started.
BONUS CONTENT!: Getting started with positive psychology can be incredibly easy. Marty (and research) suggests that before you go to bed, think of 3 good things that went well, then what allowed for them to happen. Just that. Some people journal it, I do it with my family.