When spring is in the air, we think about flourishing. As the leaves return to the trees and flower blossoms make their first appearances, humans flourish again, too.
Positive psychology founder Martin Seligman, whose science of optimal human experience is primarily concerned with human flourishing, is quick to point out that thriving is very different from being happy. Positive psychology is often called the “science of happiness,” but Seligman hates the overused, unclear umbrella term. What happiness means to one person could be entirely different to another. “Happiness,” Seligman says, “is inextricably bound up with being in a cheerful mood.”
Seligman is attempting to broaden positive psychology’s scope with an emphasis on flourishing rather than happiness. He defines flourishing with the acronym PERMA, based on five things that contribute to a life well lived. We pursue these five things not as a means to something else, but as ends in themselves.
If you want to flourish this spring, think about how to get more PERMA in your life.
P-Positive Emotions: Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson has discovered that human beings need three positive emotions for every negative one. The ratio isn’t three-to-zero, so don’t beat yourself up for feeling down. Just try to keep your scales tipped toward the positive.
E-Engagement: “Flow” is the name psychologists use to describe the deep pleasure that comes from being fully engaged in an activity you enjoy. Using your strengths to overcome challenges is a good way to create more flow in your life.
R-Relationships: Psychologist Chris Peterson has said positive psychology can be summed up in three words: “other people matter.” Connecting with others is a sure path to flourishing.
M-Meaning: Seligman defines meaning as “belonging to and serving something that you believe is bigger than the self.” Go to church, join a community, volunteer or do something else to leave the world a better place.
A-Accomplishment: Setting and reaching goals is essential to human thriving.
I would add one more—physical exercise—to this list. Sometimes we all need to get out of our heads and move our bodies a bit. PERMA plus movement is the perfect recipe for a flourishing spring.
JEREMY MCCARTHY, director of global spa development and operations for Starwood Hotels, is flourishing with the arrival of his second son in January. Read more of Jeremy’s writing at http://psychologyofwellbeing.com.