Despite long professing the benefits of understanding happiness, the father of the positive psychology movement now believes it’s overrated, the NYT reports. According to Dr Martin Seligman’s new book Flourish, happiness is just one of the components of true well-being. After watching hundreds of joyless bridge tournament participants persevere with few signs of joy (even when winning), Seligman realised that fulfilment in life is perhaps only one part happiness – and possibly up to four parts something else.
Accomplishment seemed to be what they craved. The ancient Greeks believed accomplishment contributes to eudaimonia, which translates roughly to ‘well-being’ or ‘flourishing’ and it is this concept that Flourish is based on. But flourishing is more than just accomplishment – it’s a combination of feeling good, operating in the zone (think flow) and having meaningful relationships as well. Seligman has identified five crucial elements of well-being, which he describes using the acronym Perma:
P – Positive emotion
E – Engagement
R – Relationships
M – Meaning
A – Accomplishment
Based on this, Seligman suggests we need to be careful not to confuse the good vibes of the moment with flourishing. While positive psychology has inspired global efforts to survey the state of people’s happiness, Seligman argues that we need to be probing deeper.
This feels right to me. I often talk about inspiring people in their work by giving them responsibility, learning, recognition and joy – all of which contribute to, and emanate from, accomplishment. Give people these things and they really do flourish. I still like the word happiness, but agree we need to fold all of this into the mix. Seligman’s acronym works too. Let’s reach out for PERMA-nent happiness.