Flourish - An introduction to PERMA

A quick Google of the term 'Flourish' returns 67,300,000 listings, but it all started with one question: Can psychology do more than remove suffering? In 2011, Dr. Martin Seligman summarized his research findings on this topic in a book titled 'Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being. 'In the book, Seligman identified five factors that have shown to contribute to well-being. The term is often used but is perhaps best articulated by Seligman as, "…to find fulfillment in our lives, accomplishing meaningful and worthwhile tasks, and connecting with others at a deeper level- in essence, living the 'good life.'" (Seligman, 2011).

'Flourishing' is a critical element of the Positive Psychology movement. Strategies to increase it at an individual and group level are now implemented in a range of public and private sectors. It isn't surprising given the associated benefits which for students include:

  • Preventative impact on mental health conditions over time
  • Broad, creative, and open-minded thinking
  • Stronger academic performance
  • Fewer days of absence

In essence, while connected and related to each other, Flourishing is separate from the pursuit of happiness and the absence of mental health conditions. Therefore, it is possible for people living with a mental health condition to flourish, just as those without a mental health condition can languish. Our position on the mental health continuum is susceptible to change over time, and there are things we can do to influence that position.  

Adapted from the Well-being Institute, University of Cambridge, 2011

Avid reader, throughout the next few Messengers, I'd like to share what each of Seligman's five factors is using the acronym PERMA and some practical ways of fostering them: 

Well-being element

In other words…

Positive Emotion

Feeling good


Experiencing states of Flow


Being connected to others


Having a sense of purpose


Experiencing accomplishment and success 

The first factor from the PERMA model to share with you today is Relationships. Whether it be the relationship with a partner, parent, guardian, sibling, friend, extended family member, teacher, or coach, there is a tremendous amount of evidence to support the notion of a need for social connections. Our need for authentic, sincere, reciprocal, supportive, and caring relationships is fundamental, and the absence of these can have physiological and psychological effects. The PERMA model's positive relationships domain identifies how connecting with others and developing the skills that lead to healthier relationships adds to one's sense of Flourishing (Institute of Positive Education), well-being, engagement, and accomplishment (Greenberg, 2003). It is known that social support can mitigate the impact of stress and adverse or traumatic events. Given that at the time of writing this article, Victoria has been placed into a 'state of disaster,' there is no more important a time to connect with those around us than right now. 

At the moment, our ability to connect with others outside of our households is significantly reduced. More than ever, we, particularly the young people in our lives, rely on technology for social interactions and connections with others. This is proving to be a definite challenge for families, including renegotiating technology agreements so that young people are connected and adults knowing whether their young people have the skills to manage their online interactions safely and healthily. With this in mind, the following can top up your sense of Flourishing by building on your existing relationships.    

Hints and Tips:

  • The next time you're having a conversation with someone, give them your full attention and be 'present' in the conversation by placing your phone/screen out of sight. If this conversation is occurring on a phone/screen, close other programs, or turn on the 'do not disturb' function. 
  • Please write a letter of gratitude to someone for something that they did for you. Be sure to describe what they did, how it affected you, and why you are grateful. While you might not be able to deliver it to them in person, you could call them and read the letter aloud before putting it in the post.
  • Help somebody in an unexpected but meaningful way (big or small)
  • When someone you care about is recounting something good that happened to them, be active and constructive in your response. Ask them questions to relive the experience with them (e.g., what did they say? How did you react?)
  • Practice active listening using open body language, focusing your attention on the person speaking, inviting that person to explain more by asking open-ended questions and summarising what they've said. 
  • Do a 'Losada ratio' audit (determine the number of positive to critical statements you make to someone you care about) over a day or even a conversation. A 5:1 ratio (that's five positive statements to one critical statement) has been shown to strengthen relationships. 
  • By trialing some of the above, you may notice that you connect better with others, strengthen the relationships you have, and create more positive emotions for yourself and the people you care about. 

We can all say 'Yes' To more positive emotion.
We can all say 'Yes' to engage with the people we love, in our work, in our leisure.
We can all say 'Yes' to better relationships with people.
We can all say 'Yes' to more meaning in life.
We can all say 'Yes' to more positive accomplishments.
We can all say 'Yes' to Human Flourishing.
Seligman, 2010

Further reading

Seligman, M.E.P (2011). Flourish A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being. New York City, NY: Atria Books

An introduction to Flourishing:

Institute of Positive Education:

Educational and Developmental Psychologist