I am the kind of person that needs to know how things work – once. Show me how to fix my car, explain to me how social media marketing works, send me to a workshop to understand time management. So when I was overwhelmed, I figured I better go do a course. And below are a few things that positive psychology taught me.
Firstly, there is an entire science dedicated to investigating human flourishing. It seems that some very clever researchers got tired of investigating what was wrong with people and decided to dedicate their lives to discovering what was working, and how to do more of that.
Secondly, there are two types of happiness. One is the short term hit of dopamine that makes us feel good for a while – a new pair of shoes, a movie, scoring a goal. The second is eudaimonic happiness, a more long lasting feeling of life satisfaction, the feeling you get when you watch your kids playing at the beach, or the satisfaction of finishing a complicated DIY project. Both kinds of happiness are needed to live a good life, but humans adapt quickly to the warm fuzzies and soon you need another pair of shoes, a bigger boat or one Powerball to make you feel happy.
For the best explanation of this, check out the very entertaining Shawn Achor.
The best way to truly understand happiness is to understand the PERMA model, which was designed by Martin Seligman. It has five core elements of psychological well-being and happiness. Seligman believes that these five elements can help people reach a life of fulfilment, happiness, and meaning.
P – Positive emotions. Having and noticing positive emotions is good for us. People under the influence of positivity are more creative, have better health outcomes, they take more chances and they persevere for longer at a challenging task. Positive emotions such as joy, hope, wonder and optimism are self-fulfilling. Want to know your positivity ratio? Check it out here and read the fabulous work of Dr Barb Fredrickson.
E – Engagement. When we are fully engaged, using our strengths, talents and skills, we are more likely to express satisfaction and enjoyment. People who use their strengths every day at work are 6x more engaged than those who don’t. They have lower absenteeism due to illness and stress and are more productive, both individually and in teams. They are just nicer to be around. Simple changes to the way we work and live to take account of our strengths result in massive positive changes. My top five strengths are creativity, gratitude, humour, kindness and fairness.
What are yours? You can find out here: www.viacharacter.org.
R – Relationships. We are social beings and we need connection to truly thrive. We need a combination of deep intimate relationships as well as small connections with others. Susan Pinker’s research into what makes us live longer showed that health is only one factor contributing to longevity. The highest contributor was social interaction. Our brain registers a reward when we have interaction with others and this could just be saying hello to the bus driver or smiling at a fellow dog walker. Take a look at Susan’s Ted Talk here.
M – Meaning. It seems that everyone is off trying to find their purpose (or their “Why” as per Simon Sinek) in the hope that it will make them happy. And while having a purpose WILL contribute to your feeling of life satisfaction, it might not make you feel happy – in the moment.
Any parent will tell you that raising kids is bloody hard work, they may also tell you that their relationship with their spouse is often rocky during these years. But ask these same people if being a parent brings meaning and satisfaction to their lives, the answer is almost definitely YES.
The most satisfied and fulfilled workers are those who can see the connection between what they do and a higher purpose. So whilst nurses, teachers and hotel cleaners all work really hard, those who can articulate how what they do makes a difference, are happy in their work.
A – Accomplishment. Goal setting and goal achievement is crucial to a life of happiness and satisfaction. Research has identified that high-hopers are significantly happier than low-hopers (and almost definitely happier than no-hopers 🙂 ) . People with “high hope” are not easily thwarted, if the proposed route to their goal is blocked, they will easily come up with a Plan B. Happy people see options, they see possibility and solutions, they persist and persevere, they have grit and grace.
What did all this teach me about happiness? I now truly understand that I cannot rely on other people to make me happy – that’s up to me. See my blog on blame.
For each person, and for each workplace, your pathway to happiness and fulfillment will be different, but the PERMA framework gives us a great theoretical framework to start with.
In the past, I was too busy being busy, angry, sarcastic or annoyed with the world to notice all the wonderful things around me. As a result I have developed some intentional practices (based on the research) that I repeat daily to improve my positivity. I now meditate and deliberately practice gratitude. I make a conscious decision to be kind and also extend this kindness to myself. I ensure that I only accept work that takes the best advantage of my strengths – which ensures that my clients get me at my absolute best.
I find every opportunity to bring a little joy into the world, through a smile, a thank you, an uplifting Facebook post.
And I teach it! I just love coaching others to find and use the strengths that they have. To watch teams thrive because they have tweaked the way they work with each other makes me so happy.
So if you would like to know how we can apply PERMA in your workplace or are interested in coaching that takes you from surviving to thriving, please check out my website and get in contact.