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How We Can Flourish and the PERMA Model

‘I have a thousand friends and no one to feed my cat’ (Esther Perel, 2024)

Even in our hyperconnected world, where we might have a thousand friends on social media: how many of these would we reach out to during a time of crisis? Irish Life’s Health of the Nation research indicates that 28% of us feel stressed or anxious most of the time, and 33% describe ourselves as feeling lonely.* Despite having more 'friends' and being more connected and knowledgeable about health and wellbeing than ever before, the data shows we are less happy and healthy.

Just as we prioritise our physical health by consuming nutritious food, drinking water, exercising regularly, and getting adequate sleep—all of which, interestingly, also benefit our mental health—we rarely apply the same deliberate care to our mental wellbeing. However, there are proactive and preventative measures we can take to ‘nourish’ our minds and enhance our emotional and psychological health.

Seligman’s Foundations of Wellbeing

According to Martin Seligman’s research, there are core elements or foundations needed to achieve a healthy sense of wellbeing, fulfilment, and satisfaction in life. The PERMA model, an evidence-based model of wellbeing developed by Seligman, is known for its evidence-based comprehensive approach to measuring wellbeing. Introduced by Seligman in 1998 during his tenure as President of the American Psychological Society, this model identifies five critical areas of human experience—Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Achievement— although standalone constructs they equally contribute to our positive wellbeing.

Exploring the PERMA Model

Positive Emotions:
It's not just about feeling happy but experiencing a wide range of emotions such as joy, excitement, sense of belonging, pride, accomplishment and serenity. Good mental health involves feeling, expressing, and managing a range of both positive and negative emotions. It is not about ignoring negative emotions but examining ways we can experience more positive ones; through savouring and celebrating the good things in our lives. Research suggests that 'positive emotions allow us to consider a larger set of options, decide quicker, and develop more creative problem-solving strategies' (Norman, 2005).

Barbara Fredrickson's broaden-and-build theory explores how positive emotions not only help build our resilience but also foster relationships. It unlocks other-focused thinking, for example ‘we’ versus ‘me.’ Communal experience and co-experienced positive emotions are like a superfood and nourish our bodies even more than other emotions.

How to do it:

  • Develop a gratitude practice by noting what went right or what you felt proud of/ achieved at the end of each day

  • We tend to focus on things that did not go well and less on the good stuff. Take the time to reflect on positive experiences; how they looked, felt and tasted to deepen their impact

Engagement is about our strengths and finding flow, sometimes referred to as being "in the zone." Flow is a state of optimal performance and engagement in a task or activity where there is a complete absorption, focus, and enjoyment in what we are doing. Flow is most likely to happen when the challenge at hand matches our skill level, creating a sweet spot when the challenge and skill level align. Being in flow is what helps us navigate between the twin dangers of anxiety and boredom. This concept was developed by Hungarian American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in the 1970s, who found that being in flow is associated with increased happiness, creativity, productivity and overall wellbeing.

How to do it:

We are more likely to get into flow when we engage in an activity that uses our strengths. We all have 5-7 top strengths. Try and list them.

Ask yourself and others:

  • What would others say you do well?

  • If you had a bonus day off and could do anything you wanted, what would it be?

  • When was the last time you were so absorbed in a task that you lost track of time? What were you doing, and what strengths underpinned this?

Brene Brown (2024) talks about ‘living beyond human scale’ in the context of a world in which we’re so hyperconnected digitally, yet many of us won't pick up the phone to have a conversation when we really need someone to talk to.

Good social relationships are the most consistent predictor of a happy life. Engaging positively with others triggers neurotransmitters and hormones like oxytocin, which not only reduce stress levels but also improve our immune system function, contributing to overall health and wellbeing.

How to do it:

  • Being present when talking to someone is a powerful gift you can offer. Remove distractions, practice active listening, empathy, and cultivate curiosity to build stronger connections

  • List the people in your life who energise you, rather than drain you, and spend more time with them

Seligman (2012) discussed meaning as belonging to or serving something greater than ourselves. This pursuit is an intrinsic human need, and finding meaning can give us a sense of value and self-worth. For many, this may be achieved through involvement in the local community, family, religion, a charity, creative endeavours, or a profession. Having a purpose in life helps us focus on what is important, especially in the face of significant challenge or adversity. People who report having a purpose in life tend to live longer and experience greater life satisfaction, along with fewer health problems (Kashdan et al., 2009).*

How to do it:

  • A great place to start is by reflecting on your personal values. List them and consider whether your life currently aligns with these values

  • Ask yourself if there are ways you can more fully live in accordance with your values. This might involve becoming more involved in community activities or even changing aspects of your professional life to better reflect what you find meaningful

Achievement is also known as accomplishment, mastery, or competence. It plays a crucial role in our sense of self-worth and efficacy. We feel busier than ever yet may still have the nagging feeling that we are not achieving enough, or that we should be doing more with thoughts such as 'I should be a better parent and spend more time with my children', 'I never get through my work to-do list', or 'I should be more successful'.

Fostering a sense of achievement supports our well-being by building our confidence and self-efficacy, making us feel capable of achieving what we set out to do, as well as encouraging pride in our accomplishments.

How to do it:

  • Cultivate a growth mindset, (Carol Dweck), by celebrating small successes regularly and shift focus on what you are achieving rather than what you are not.

  • Try to view failure or negative feedback as opportunities for growth. This mindset encourages resilience and a more positive approach to challenges

Implementing the PERMA model involves small daily actions that can lead to significant changes in our wellbeing. Happiness however goes beyond just these five elements, to include other important areas such as mindset, physical activity, nutrition, sleep, environment, and financial security. It’s important to note, these are areas equally important to our psychological health and positive mental wellbeing.

The following are actions and micro-actions using the PERMA model that you can easily implement into everyday life:

Positive emotions:

  • Think about something that recently gave you joy. What was it? Who were you with?

  • Learn to savour past good moments. Savouring means fully immersing yourself in the event and is a way to extend the positive experience


  • Meet a friend for a walk and a chat

  • Think of the people in your life you most care about and send them a message

  • Perform a random act of kindness to brighten up someone's day

  • Connect with someone you don’t know – share a smile or start a conversation


  • Reflect on your top three strengths

  • Identify and list three things that you excel at


  • Engage with a cause or organisation that holds significant importance to you

  • Compile a list of your most important values


  • Actively seek out feedback. Feedback is an opportunity to gain experience and grow

  • Offer strengths-based feedback to a colleague, highlighting when you observed them at their best

Csikszentmihalyi, M., & LeFevre, J. (1989). Optimal experience in work and leisure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 56(5), 815–822.
Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House.
Fredrickson, B. L. (2005). The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. In F. A. Huppert, N. Baylis, & B. Keverne (Eds.), The science of well-being (pp. 217–238).
Irish Life’s Health of the Nation 2023 Report.
McKnight, P. E., & Kashdan, T. B. (2009). Purpose in life as a system that creates and sustains health and well-being: An integrative, testable theory. Journal of General Psychology.
Norman, D. (2002). Emotion and Design: Attractive things work better.
Unlocking us with Brené Brown: New AI – Artificial Intimacy in this Digital Age with Ester Perel 2024 [Podcast episode].
Seligman, M. E. P. (2011). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. Free Press.

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