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Explanations > Motivation > PERMA

Positive emotion | Engagement | Relationships | Meaning | Accomplishment | So what?


In studying positive psychology, Martin Seligman discovered that people will do things for a basic set of fundamental motivations, for which he has used the acronym 'PERMA'.

Positive emotion

We do many things for the good feelings that we get when we do them. We sing, dance, run, read or whatever it takes to feel happy and joyful.

We cannot always be happy, however, and still feel negative emotions. Research by Barbara Fredrickson has shown that to sustain happiness, we need three positive feelings for every negative one.


When we become engaged in an activity, time seems to fly by in what has been called 'flow'. This is one reason we have hobbies into which we can throw ourselves. Such mindful immersion is something we can all easily do.

Being engaged at work can also be very enjoyable, which is one reason why good leaders get their workforce actively and emotionally engaged in the business.

The enemy of engagement is distraction, which can be a problem in today's workplace, where phones, computers and open work areas may give little time to get you head down and get fully engaged in a particular task that needs quiet concentration.


We work hard to find and build good relationships with other people. We are social animals and find solace and deep pleasure in companionship with others.

It has been shown that one of the best predictors of happiness and loyalty at work is being on good terms with the people there, particularly managers who can otherwise make life a misery.

In good relationships, we join our identities with that of others, in effect becoming one with them and feeling more than we are.


We do things that give meaning to our lives, whether it is teaching others or selling holidays. We find different meaning in different things, with some things being more meaningful for each individual.

We also find meaning in simply understanding the world around us. The 'aha' of learning and discovery is, in itself, a very pleasant feeling.

We can find meaning internally, in our reflections and thoughts. We also may find meaning in external connection into great causes and spirituality.


We often count the value of our lives in the accomplishments we have achieved, whether it is raising a family, climbing mountains or getting qualified.

For an accomplishment to be valued, it should not be easy (otherwise it would not really be an accomplishment). What is best is what has simply been described as an achievable challenge.

So what?

So whether you are seeking happiness in your own life or seeking to persuade others, addressing these five 'PERMA' items can help you succeed.

See also

Ways to Happiness


Seligman, M.E.P. (2011). Flourish, New York: Free Press


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