The 5 Components of Happiness

happiness Feb 16, 2019

What makes someone happy? Why are some people happy and others aren’t? What are the biggest life factors that influence happiness? What can I do to be happier?

Happiness is obviously a big topic in psychology, and in my practice as a Clinical Psychologist. 

In this article I’m going to present a model of happiness, based on research and my clinical experience. AND tips on how to INCREASE HAPPINESS based on the 5 components outlined below.

Psychologist and the founder of Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman, Ph.D., describes the elements of happiness as consisting of 5 elements using the acronym “PERMA” (Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Achievement):

  1. Positive Emotion: Positive emotion can also be thought of as a feeling of optimism about yourself, your life, and the past, present, and future. It’s about having an understanding of the ups and downs in life, but the ability to focus on the “ups.” If you struggle with optimism and positive emotion, it’s good practice to try to change your perspective and look at the good rather than the bad. Sometimes, when someone is really struggling, I’ll ask them to think about a situation like an optimistic person would, and often they are able to articulate a more positive perspective. It takes practice, but it does work!
  2. Engagement: This is actually my personal favorite! This one is about finding things you enjoy to the point that you almost lose time because you’re so interested/engaged/captivated by what you’re doing/experiencing. Seligman describes it as finding “flow.” What creates engagement or flow is be different for everyone based on unique interests. It’s important to find something in personal or professional realms that totally absorb us. I don’t necessarily think of this as one activity or act, though it could be. I think of it as a way of life. Finding a route in life that excites you, that you feel excited about and find passion in. Don’t get me wrong, you won’t feel this way every second of every day. We all have parts of life that we don’t want to do. But it’s about finding that thing or things that you truly enjoy focusing on. For me, it’s actually what I’m doing right now. I absolutely love creating, teaching, and writing for PsychSavvy. It’s absolutely my passion to help people everywhere in this way, and through counseling. I could spend hours upon hours creating content, writing and filming courses, meeting with people, etc. and never get bored.
  3. Relationships: By nature, humans are social beings, and the importance of real, authentic, positive relationships play an important role in happiness. On the flip-side, having toxic relationships can decrease or interfere with happiness. It’s important to have people in your life you can laugh with (and laugh a lot!) but also people you can cry with when need be. People who bring out the best in you, and people who can listen without judgment and also have the tough conversations with you too. Sometimes it’s good to do what I call a “social inventory.” Think about the people with whom you spend the most time. Are these positive relationships or toxic ones. I don’t necessarily suggest cutting people out of your life suddenly (although in some situations that might be the way to go) but to try to limit time with the toxic people and increase time with the positive people who lift you up, laugh with you, and whom you trust.
  4. Meaning: What does it mean to live a “purposeful existence?” To me this means having a purpose and impact that you can feel good about. Understanding your talents, strengths and “genius areas,” and then being able to apply those to create a greater meaning to life in a way that you can see your impact in small or large ways. Meaning is a personal experience and not necessarily tied to material wealth or the meaning of your life as others perceive it. I think of my 80 year old self one day looking back at my own life and thinking about if I had fun, if I made a difference, if I had a positive impact on people/society, etc. Try this same exercise- imagine you’re 80 years old. What would you tell yourself now, today? What would you change about how you live your life, your perspective, your impact on others? Think of a few small ways you can start making the changes that one day your 80 year old self will be proud of.
  5. Achievement: Feeling a sense of accomplishment combines both the effort of trying something and then being able to recognize and appreciate the achievement. Achievement can be gained in a variety of ways: doing well on a school assignment, learning to play and instrument, trying something new, creating art, reading a book, getting a new job, playing a sport, exercising, doing something you’re proud of at work, getting a degree, starting a business, doing something kind, etc. It can really be anything that gives you sense of accomplishment that you feel good about. As I mentioned, the other important component of achievement is taking the time to recognize and even celebrate the accomplishment!

It’s important to note that the components of happiness (PERMA) are listed above in no particular order. Having a little of each in your life can have a cumulative effect of increasing happiness and overall fulfillment.

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