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The 5 Principles You Need To Find Authentic & Sustained Happiness

Applying psychological positivity to the pursuit of happiness...



According to the founder of psychological positivity, Dr Martin Seligman, there are five core principles to authentic and sustained happiness in life. Positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning and achievement, or PERMA for short.

To better understand my psychology and work on my happiness, I’ve been evaluating these five aspects of my life and I’ve learnt a few things worth sharing.

So let’s discuss these principles, analyse our thoughts and behaviours and recognise the best areas for change in the pursuit of happiness in our every day lives.

1. Positive Emotions

Do you ever find yourself spiralling into a vortex of worry, doubt and fear? When presented with new situations, are you sceptical, distrustful or afraid? Do you often see the negative side over the positive or jump on the bad news before even considering the good? I’ve been there.

Following the PERMA principles, positive emotions such as gratitude, kindness and hope are the cornerstone to finding joy and happiness in an everyday setting, leading to genuine, sustained happiness. Next time you find your thoughts spiralling, try recognising your emotions.

By becoming aware of your tendency to jump into the negative emotions, or recognising a pattern of behaviour, you can remind yourself that you can choose how you respond to any situation. From here, you can slowly train your brain to focus on the positives over the negatives.

I like to reflect on my thoughts through meditation, journaling and regularly incorporating gratitude and mindfulness into my every day.


2. Engagement

Do you ever feel as though everything is difficult? Like you are negatively challenged or overwhelmed in all aspects of your life? Or maybe as if you are running from weakness to weakness?

The concept of engagement is the second principle of PERMA. When we are engaged in what we do, we find flow, rhythm and confidence in our abilities, leading to authentic joy and sustained happiness.

Dr Seligman argues that to find better engagement we need to first be aware of our signature strengths, that is the characteristics or personal traits we are most talented with. Once we are aware of our strengths we can focus on them and incorporate them into our everyday lives, hence finding greater momentum, flow and positive emotion in what we do.

For example, upon completing Dr Seligman’s strengths test, I found my greatest strength is my tenacity and perseverance. These results reminded me that I enjoy being challenged, problem-solving and creative thinking outside the metaphorical box. So this is exactly how I am now approaching my writing. Challenging myself to create better content, more frequently from unique angles and perspectives. And I love it!


3. Relationships

Does it ever feel like your friends have all disappeared, your love life is down the drain and even your pet dog is no longer interested in giving or receiving any love?

Humans are social creatures and we thrive on personal connections and positive relationships, so when these are lacking, so too is our positive psychology.

This third principle of PERMA has reminded me, especially during 2020, that my relationships are a very large component of my mental health and positive psychology.

When it comes to fostering better relationships, communication is key. During his talk at Happiness & Its Causes 2012, held in Adelaide Australia, Dr Seligman gives the example of active constructive language (as opposed to passive constructive or passive deconstructive language) when it comes to celebrating the victory of a loved one.

Next time you want to celebrate a win, rather than merely saying “congratulations” (passive constructive) and moving on with the conversation, it can be hugely beneficial to discuss every detail of the success and collectively learn from it. By finding ways to celebrate and then apply the skills used in that person’s victory, you can not only better this particular relationship, but also use positive psychology to grow your engagement in other areas of your life as well.


4. Meaning

What is your first emotion when you wake up in the morning? Do you feel motivated to get out of bed? Do you struggle to find the why in what you do? Have you lost what it means to be fulfilled, driven and purposeful in your life?

The fourth principle of PERMA is meaning, with authentic and sustained motivation in life coming from something bigger than yourself.

According to Dr Seligman, this meaning can easily be restored through philanthropy or simply helping others in one shape or another. Whether it’s donating a percentage of your income, volunteering your time or finding a greater legacy in your life, we cannot find happiness within ourselves alone.

Personally, right now, I am finding meaning and motivation in creative thinking and building my legacy. I often think about the life I want to create for my future family, the values I want to embody and share, and the small, yet significant impact I can make in the world.


5. Achievement

Are you renowned for giving up on your New Year’s resolutions before the end of January? Do you rarely follow through with your goals or commitments? Can you remember your last big achievement? The fifth and final principle of PERMA is achievement, with our sense of wellbeing improving alongside our accomplishments in life. Be it achievements in our profession or personal goals and challenges, we thrive on personal growth and development.

So what’s the best way to achieve our goals? By building better routines and habits and sticking to them. Set yourself a thirty-day challenge, hire a personal trainer or life coach and get clear on what you want to achieve this week, this month and this year.

I also find once I start achieving my goals it becomes easier to continue and easier to believe in my ability. Once I’ve succeeded before I know I can do it again. Once I’ve overcome challenges before, I know I am capable of overcoming another challenge. And hence the cycle of growth and achievement continues.


Final Thoughts

The pursuit of happiness can be an elusive journey, however, by focusing on one or more of the PERMA principles, we can begin to analyse our thoughts and behaviours to ultimately find authentic and sustained happiness in our everyday lives.

While I have always considered myself a positive happy person, using the PERMA principles to reflect on my thoughts, behaviours and habits has helped me to find greater awareness, mindfulness and ultimately greater happiness, even through this difficult year.


A Note on Mental Health

If you are struggling with your mental health you are not alone. Please reach out to someone you love, a health professional or find more information online via websites such as Beyond Blue.

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