From Happiness to Flourishing in Five PERMAnent Steps
by Kinga Lewandowska — 5 min read
You wake up in the morning with the first ray of sunshine caressing your cheek. A smile settles on your face a minute before you open your eyes. Still somewhat in a dreamy state you sit up and stretch your arms towards the ceiling. Gratitude starts filling your heart to the brim and kicks you out of bed. The world is inviting, full of possibilities and adventures, you are ready to rock it. How amazing it feels to be alive in every possible way.
Happiness In Bloom
Many of us believe that the ultimate mental health goal is happiness. Indeed, in the psychological spectrum of definitions, where depression and languishing lie in the shadows, and joy and wellbeing take up the bright space with the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, happiness feels like a dream come true. Yet, it’s still part of a more all-encompassing story.
The state of flourishing is the real deal. It’s a combination of physical, mental, and emotional fitness, the kind of lasting wellbeing and thriving in which all aspects of one’s life are truly good and in order. It’s a richer and more holistic concept that is closely related to but extends beyond the confines of happiness.
“Flourishing is the product of the pursuit and engagement of an authentic life that brings inner joy and happiness through meeting goals, being connected with life passions, and relishing in accomplishments through the peaks and valleys of life.” – Dr. Lynn Soots
The P E R M A Model
The question arises, how do we get to that bright end of the mental health spectrum? The answer lies in our understanding of the fact that flourishing is a process that requires action and effort. According to Dr. Martin Seligman, the founding father of modern Positive Psychology, flourishing is the result of building and tending to the five factors of the PERMA model. These are:
Positive emotions and states – i.e. happiness, hope, intention, fulfillment, serenity, joy, love, compassion, amusement, and gratitude. If savored and cultivated, they can build up your resilience and undo the harm done by negativity.
Engagement – i.e. the state of flow, mindfulness, living in the present moment, getting in the zone and immersing yourself in a project to the point of losing any sense of the space-time continuum. It’s one of the best strategies to combat languishing.
Positive relationships – i.e. interactions and bonds we form with partners, friends, family, co-workers, mentors, and our community. We are hive creatures and feeling loved, supported, and valued is crucial to our flourishing.
Meaning – i.e. having purpose in life, serving something bigger than ourselves, feeling a sense of belonging, value, and significance. Meaning helps us zoom in on what matters most and enhances our life satisfaction.
Accomplishments – i.e. achievements, big or small, mastery of an endeavor, reaching your goals, developing intrinsic motivation. Anything you do that makes you look at your life with pride considerably contributes to your thriving.
Additionally, Dr. Seligman underlines the importance of optimism, physical activity, nutrition, and sleep as necessary conditions for the PERMA model to work. Flourishing is a state we create only when we are willing to proactively work on all of these elements in equal measure.
It is important to understand one uncomfortable truth. Wellbeing is not the absence of occasional sadness, suffering, misery, pain, discomfort, trepidation, or heartbreak. When we create the state of flourishing in our life, relieving stress and anxiety becomes easier, we get stronger in overcoming adversity and braver in taking on more serious challenges. The world will still occasionally throw stones at us, yet what changes is our ability to weather the storm. The state of flourishing makes us resilient and tougher than the tough times. It creates more space for gratitude and paves the path in which the obstacle becomes the journey.
“What stands in the way becomes the way.”– Marcus Aurelius
Knowledge is power. The first step towards flourishing is assessing your levels of life satisfaction and happiness (we recommend this simple test). Chances are, you’re already on top of your mental health game. However, we’re going to take a wild guess and assume that since you’re reading this article right now, you’re still searching for answers.
Identifying who you are, how you feel in the present moment, where you are now, and where you want to be in the future is crucial. Flourishing is living life on your terms and you need to know what your terms are. Take time to reflect, journal, find your voice, and reconnect with your inner self. Utilize the power of affirmations to shape your reality. If you stay curious and open minded, you’ll keep learning and discovering the boundaries of your own abilities and strengths. Only then will you be able to seal the deal on your lasting wellbeing.
We can be really hard on ourselves sometimes. We want to achieve greatness before a certain age, we feel like we constantly need to do more and reach further, we watch others making their dreams come true and… we tend to forget that slow progress is still progress.
Maybe you need to reevaluate or redefine success for yourself? Take a deep breath, feel the balance in your life, and savor the small moments (how often do we look back and realize they were in fact big moments?). Notice and appreciate your strengths, celebrate your efforts, and take pride in your accomplishments. You need to be your own best friend and give yourself a pat in the back when you deserve it. Self-love is a flowery path to flourishing.
Strength In Numbers
Our social environment has an enormous impact on our wellbeing. We need others to survive and thrive. While languishing can disconnect us even from our friends and family, there is no flourishing without high quality connections with significant people in our life. We need smiles, shoulders to cry on, reassuring words, mindful time together, and the feeling of security that can only stem from unity.
Reconnect with old friends and acquaintances. Share both losses and victories with your tribe. Learn how to be a good listener. Study something new and then teach others. Look for communities of like-minded people to form new circles of social diversity in your life. United we stand, divided we fall.
Goodness and Gratitude
What you give, you receive. What goes around, comes around. The goodness and gratitude you emanate and spread will grow sevenfold and return to you in abundance. Research shows that performing five acts of kindness in a single day once a week can take your wellbeing to a higher level. Be the light for others to generate even more of it within yourself, for yourself.
Look for volunteering opportunities, send a kind message to your friend to brighten up their morning, or read a book with your little brother. Tell your loved ones why you are grateful to have them in your life. What we do for others and what we feel grateful for do not have to be spectacular illuminations, fireworks, and glare. Picking up a snail off the high road and carrying it to safety earns you flourishing points, too. There’s beauty in simplicity.
In order to be happy and thrive we need to feel that our life has meaning. We need both dreams andplans how to make those dreams come true. However, to reach for the stars we first have to find purpose exactly where we are. Flourishing comes from having something to look forward to every day. Small moments of joy and meaning today will lay the foundations for more happiness and fulfillment in the future.
Create a power space in your house, a place dedicated to your passions, hobbies, relaxation, and privacy, a spot where you can reconnect with your inner voice and be your most authentic self. It will help you zone out and trigger your state of flow. Clarity comes from engagement. Dive into a project that will absorb all of your attention (e.g. create a vision board, it’s one of the best free tools to generate more purpose and meaning for your future) and after a while you might hear flourishing softly tapping on your window.
Flourishing is a state of sincere positivity. It’s deep fulfillment, it’s the opposite of languishing, it’s everything we mean when we say, “I am dandy! Thank you very much for asking, how are you?” without a hint of forced politeness. When we’re truly and undeniably okay, when our meaning is bigger than ourselves, our resilience stronger than adversity, and our gratitude and bonds with loved ones more durable than our sorrows and losses – that’s when flourishing knows where to find us.
Mental health is a spectrum and languishing, the peculiar state between depression and wellbeing, is a serious risk factor. After reading this article you'll be well equipped with solid strategies to combat your feelings of emptiness.
It is of immeasurable importance to acknowledge cultural differences in values and happiness. However, while there are some cultural universalities, there are also individual differences we need to rely on in shaping our happiness.