The PERMA Model: Understanding the Science of Happiness

PERMA Model concept - happy-teacher-standing-with-schoolkids-in-classroom

In a world where education is as much about shaping well-rounded individuals as it is about imparting knowledge, understanding the science of happiness becomes crucial. Enter the PERMA™ model, a groundbreaking framework in positive psychology developed by Martin Seligman that distills the essence of psychological well-being into five core elements. 

Tailored for educators, this blog post will guide you through the intricacies of Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Achievement, and how these elements can transform not just personal well-being but also the educational landscape.

As we delve into each facet of the PERMA model, we’ll explore its profound relevance to the educational setting. We’ll discuss practical strategies for teachers and administrators to incorporate the PERMA elements into their practice, benefiting both themselves and students. Furthermore, we’ll explore how these principles can create a positive school climate—an essential factor in shaping student outcomes. We’ll also explore practical resources and techniques for educators to implement while fostering authentic happiness in themselves, their colleagues, and most importantly—our students.

Reclaim Your Joy & Passion As A Teacher - Click Here

Read Teach Happy by Kim Strobel and discover the path back to emotional and professional fulfillment in the teaching industry.

Whether you’re a teacher in the classroom or an administrator leading change, understanding and applying the principles of positive psychology can revolutionize your approach to education. 

So let’s unravel the potential of the PERMA model together and equip you with the strategies to nurture a thriving learning environment where everyone can achieve their best.

Exploring the PERMA Model and Its Relevance to Educators

PERMA Model Graphic
PERMA Model Graphic

The PERMA model stands at the forefront of positive psychology, offering a framework for understanding the constituents of well-being and happiness. Developed by Martin Seligman, it encapsulates five core elements: Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Achievement. These elements provide a robust foundation for educators to enhance their own well-being, as well as to foster a thriving educational environment where students can excel.

In the context of education, each element of the PERMA model holds special significance.

  • Positive Emotion connects to the joy and satisfaction derived from teaching.
  • Engagement relates to the immersive experience of educators in their craft.
  • Relationships emphasize the crucial bonds formed with students and colleagues.
  • Meaning reflects the profound purpose found in educating future generations.
  • Achievement represents the goals educators set and accomplish in their professional journey.

Educators who prioritize these elements in their teaching and personal growth can create a powerful impact on student outcomes, school climate, and individual well-being.

Breaking Down the PERMA Elements

The PERMA model presents five foundational elements that contribute to well-being and happiness, as identified by positive psychology. These elements serve as a framework to understand and measure psychological health and are particularly relevant for educators who aim to nurture a thriving educational environment.

PERMA Model Positive Emotion

Positive Emotion, as defined by the PERMA theory, is a multifaceted aspect of human flourishing that extends much further than mere happiness. It includes different emotional states such as optimism, hope, interest, joy, love, compassion, pride, amusement, and gratitude. 

Importantly, these emotions serve as key indicators of well-being and individual flourishing. Grounded in research by Fredrickson (2001), these positive emotions can be deliberately cultivated or learned to enhance one’s overall well-being.  In the classroom, educators can foster these emotions by incorporating activities that celebrate student achievements and encourage a positive outlook. 

Positive emotions have been proven to enrich one’s habitual thinking and acting when they are consciously explored, savored, and integrated into daily life as well as visions of future life. Not only do these emotions negate the harmful impacts of negative emotions, but they also foster resilience, as highlighted in the work of Tugade & Fredrickson (2004)

Embracing positive emotions leads to the development of various resources within an individual, spanning from physical and intellectual to psychological and social ones, which all contribute to resilience and holistic well-being. Activities that can help to foster positive emotions include: spending quality time with loved ones, pursuing hobbies and creative interests, listening to uplifting music, engaging in mindfulness, and reflecting on life’s blessings and achievements.

The utilization of positive emotions as a route to well-being is largely hedonic. This involves enhancing positive emotions about past experiences through cultivating gratitude and forgiveness, intensifying pleasure in the present via savoring physical experiences and mindfulness, and constructing positive emotions about the future through nurturing hope and optimism. 

However, it is crucial to note that there is an inherent limitation in this route based on the extent to which an individual can experience positive emotions. Research has shown that the experience of positive emotion is partially heritable and each individual has their own range within which their emotions tend to fluctuate. Hence, people’s capacity to experience positive emotions differs based on their disposition. While traditional conceptions of happiness emphasize positive emotions, knowing that there are other paths to well-being provides a broader understanding of how human flourishing can be achieved.

Engagement, the second pillar of the PERMA model, is not simply about being occupied with an activity, but rather becoming fully immersed and deeply involved in it. This component emphasizes the psychological state of being completely absorbed, losing oneself in the moment. This is characterized as being concentrated and deeply engrossed in one’s tasks, fostering a sense of investment and involvement that drives productivity and promotes well-being.

This state of rapt absorption is often accompanied by a sense of losing track of time, where other thoughts and distractions fade away, otherwise known as ‘flow.’ Flow plays an exceptionally significant role in this concept of engagement. 

Introduced by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, ‘flow‘ refers to those moments when you are so engrossed in a task that the rest of the world seems to vanish. For example, a professional soccer player may find himself in a state of “flow” during a soccer match tuning out the rest of the world and time passing by unnoticed as the soccer enthusiast is completely engrossed in the game.

Within an educational context, this idea remains pivotal. Teachers can work towards fostering engagement by devising lessons and activities that spark their students’ interests, provoke their curiosity, and provide the right balance between challenge and capability. Tailoring teaching strategies according to students’ individual strengths, learning styles, and abilities can exponentially drive engagement, making learning an active, dynamic process rather than a passive one.

Encouraging active participation, collaborative learning, and goal-oriented tasks can enhance the engagement further. In addition, providing constructive feedback and recognizing individual effort and progress can ensure students feel valued and motivated to continue their engagement.

However, engagement doesn’t only apply to education but to several aspects of life – be it work, leisure activities, or relationships. If people find tasks or roles that make them lose the sense of time and bring them joy and satisfaction, that’s where true engagement lies. Thus, cultivating this element could significantly contribute to a fulfilling and flourishing life.

In the context of PERMA Theory, relationships are vitally important to human happiness and well-being. People are fundamentally social creatures, and building strong, positive relationships is integral to our sense of satisfaction and contentment in life. Research suggests that the quality of our relationships significantly influences our mental health, emotional state, and overall quality of life. For instance, a study undertaken by Berkman and Syme in 1979 revealed that adults with the least amount of social connections had a risk of mortality that was over double compared to those with the most social ties.

In a school setting, relationships take on an additional layer of importance. A supportive and connected educational environment can have a profound impact on the success and welfare of students, faculty, and other staff. By fostering strong relationships, we can create a communal atmosphere where individuals don’t just feel valued, but they also flourish.

Strong relationships between educators and students enhance the academic experience by fostering trust, respect, and a sense of inclusivity. Educators who take the time to understand and connect with their students on a personal level naturally stimulate a more engaging and productive learning environment. Students are more likely to feel motivated and excited about their studies when they feel seen, heard, and recognized by their educators.

Furthermore, relationships among colleagues are equally crucial. Teachers, staff, and administration who feel connected to each other create a productive and harmonious work environment. These connections contribute to team cohesion, promote shared vision, and facilitate effective problem-solving. A strong network among colleagues nurtures mutual support, professional development, and boosts morale.

Building robust relationships in schools will also naturally extend to relationships between the school and the larger community – parents, guardians, and local organizations. Schools with robust relational structures often showcase improved parent involvement, community support, and stakeholder commitment, all of which contribute to a more successful educational outcome.

In essence, relationships are about cultivating mutual respect, understanding, and empathy. Whether it’s between teacher-student, among colleagues, or with the wider community, nurturing high-quality relationships should be a critical aspect of every school’s mission, reflecting the place relationships hold within the PERMA Theory of human well-being.

PERMA Model Meaning

Meaning, as an essential element in the PERMA theory, goes well beyond just a sense of purpose or feeling of significance in one’s work. Rather, it signifies the thoughtful understanding of one’s life narrative, affirming of life’s worth, and one’s pursuits in life that provide a greater sense of coherence, purpose, and significance.

Meaning as detailed in this theory is indeed about individual contribution, but it also encompasses the broader comprehension of our place and role in the universe. It is about realizing and appreciating how we are part of something larger, and how we contribute to the broader fabric of life. This element speaks to our profound desire as human beings to understand our significance in the larger scheme of things and contributes considerably to our overall sense of well-being

This search for meaning is a timeless endeavor and varies across individuals, cultures, and societies. However, it primarily stems from three sources. 

  1. Firstly, the purpose derived from serving others or contributing to the broader society.
  2. Secondly, the understanding and affirmation of one’s self-worth and value.
  3. Thirdly, the continuity and coherence found by becoming part of something that extends beyond our individual existence.

For instance, educators find their sense of meaning not only in their direct work of inspiring and educating the next generation but also in the indirect impacts they have. They contribute to creating a society with knowledgeable and responsible citizens, thus impacting the future at large.

In the quest for meaning, transparency, and authenticity hold great value. It is not merely about subscribing to any grand narrative or purpose, but about genuinely understanding and identifying with that purpose. This personal resonance and commitment are what make the pursuit of meaning so rewarding and fulfilling, ultimately contributing to human flourishing. 

In sum, meaning is a multifaceted, deeply profound element in the PERMA theory. It involves an authentic and personalized understanding of one’s purpose and significance in the broader context of life, thereby instilling a sense of fulfillment, joy, and well-being.

PERMA Model Accomplishment

Achievement, the final element of the PERMA Theory, signifies the importance of having clear life goals, as well as the motivation and determination to strive earnestly to attain those goals. This element heavily underscores the human need for accomplishment, both on a personal level and within broad societal contexts.

Fundamentally, the achievement dimension of the PERMA model isn’t just about the occurrence of accomplishment, it’s about the painstaking journey that leads to the fulfillment of goals. It embodies the relish of undertaking challenges, the persistence to keep moving forward despite setbacks, the resilience to recover from failures, and the exhilaration of realizing personal or shared ambitions. It involves hard work, discipline, determination, perseverance, and often requires stepping out of comfort zones.

In an educational setting, educators can foster a sense of achievement in their students by setting clear, achievable and yet challenging objectives. By creating a learning environment where success is attainable but requires dedicated effort, teachers can encourage their students to strive for their individual potential, driving the students’ intrinsic motivation for challenge and self-improvement.

Moreover, the recognition and celebration of effort, progress, and success are vital in not only validating the hard work invested but also in enhancing the students’ self-efficacy, providing them with the confidence to undertake bigger challenges. A culture of recognition of achievement can inspire grit and resilience in learners, thereby empowering them to reach their full potential.

Equally important, is fostering a sense of achievement in educators themselves. By being proactive in setting and reaching their own professional development objectives, they can serve as positive role models to their learners, demonstrating the joy and satisfaction earned through dedication to personal achievement.

Ultimately, the attainment of achievement fosters satisfaction, strengthens self-confidence, and instills a sense of worth and authenticity. It encompasses the entire holistic journey of setting goals, pursuing them ardently, overcoming adversity and experiencing triumph. It is about recognizing and appreciating the sum of one’s efforts and victories, both big and small, and continually seeking growth and self-improvement.

Applying the PERMA Model in the Classroom

Strategies for educators to cultivate positive emotions among students include creating an atmosphere of safety and acceptance, using humor and playfulness in teaching, and celebrating students’ achievements, however small. 

Teachers can integrate moments of joy and gratitude into the school day, encouraging students to share things they are thankful for or happy about. This practice not only fosters positive emotions but also builds a sense of community among students.

Click Here to Try our FREE Gratitude Tracker

The more you focus on all the abundance in your life, the more you attract more abundance into your life.

Techniques to increase engagement and flow in classroom activities involve designing lessons that are both challenging and achievable, providing clear goals, and offering immediate feedback. Teachers should aim to match tasks with students’ skill levels to create a balance that encourages deep focus and immersion. Additionally, incorporating student interests into lessons increases relevance and motivation, thereby enhancing engagement.

Ideas for strengthening relationships and creating supportive learning communities include promoting teamwork through collaborative projects, establishing class rituals that foster belonging, and actively listening to and acknowledging students’ thoughts and feelings. By modeling empathy and respect, educators create a trusting environment where students feel valued and connected. Regular check-ins and community-building activities can further deepen these relationships.

Ways to help students and teachers find meaning in educational tasks involve connecting curriculum content to real-world applications and encouraging students to reflect on how their learning contributes to their life goals. Educators can facilitate discussions about personal values and how schoolwork aligns with these values, thus making academic tasks more meaningful.

Encouraging a mindset of achievement and celebrating successes means setting clear, attainable goals for both students and teachers. Recognizing effort and progress, not just final outcomes, helps build a culture of achievement. Celebrating milestones, whether big or small, reinforces the value of perseverance and hard work, motivating both educators and students to continue striving toward their goals.

Practical Exercises and Resources for Educators

Educators seeking to integrate the PERMA model into their teaching can access an array of practical exercises and resources. 

Educators can employ load chart practice exercises to effectively balance their workload with their personal well-being. These exercises help teachers visualize their tasks and responsibilities, prioritize them, and manage their time more efficiently. By reducing stress and increasing organization, educators can create more space for positive experiences in both their professional and personal lives. 

Classroom activities and lesson plans that incorporate elements of positive psychology can also be easily integrated into the curriculum. Activities such as gratitude circles, positive affirmations and mindful breathing techniques can be easily incorporated into lesson plans. 

By teaching mindfulness strategies early on in a student’s education journey, educators arm children with skills that will continue to benefit them throughout their lives.

The Impact of the PERMA Model on School Climate and Student Outcomes

The incorporation of the PERMA model into school environments has shown promising results in shaping a positive school climate and enhancing student outcomes. 

Research in positive psychology suggests that schools that emphasize the five PERMA elements often report improvements in both student and teacher well-being. This holistic focus on psychological well-being can lead to a more inclusive, supportive, and productive learning atmosphere where students are more engaged and motivated to learn.

In response to the escalating mental health issues among university students, further aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers at the University of Worcester designed and implemented an 8-week online wellbeing program. This program, underpinned by the PERMA-H framework, aimed at fostering Positive emotions, Engagement, fostering positive Relationships, instilling a sense of Meaning or purpose, and encouraging a sense of Accomplishment, all with a focus on Health. The innovative program was not only engineered to establish a sense of community during remote learning but was also constructed to educate students on key concepts of wellbeing while providing them with relevant resources to sustain or enhance their wellbeing. The preliminary evaluations indicate positive outcomes, such as improvements in students’ overall mental health, increased feelings of community, and enhanced coping strategies. These improvements emphasize the potential role of such positive education initiatives in promoting student wellbeing amid challenging times.

Benefits of Well-Being

Strobel Well Being Benefits

It’s undeniable that the PERMA Model and well-being has broad-ranging benefits that impact all areas of an individual’s life, from mental states to physical health, personal relationships, professional productivity, and societal contributions. Here are some key benefits:

  1. Improved Mental Health: People with higher levels of well-being are generally happier, less stressed, and less prone to mental health disorders like depression and anxiety.
  2. Enhanced Physical Health: They also tend to have better physical health. They are more likely to maintain healthy behaviors like regular exercise, balanced diet, and adequate sleep, thereby boosting their immunity and overall health. They also tend to recover more quickly from illness.
  3. Greater Resilience: Well-being equips individuals with resilience, the ability to bounce back from adversity, and effectively cope with life’s challenges.
  4. Better Relationships: Individuals with high well-being levels typically have more satisfying and healthy relationships. They are often more compassionate, empathetic, and better at managing interpersonal conflicts.
  5. Higher Productivity: People with high levels of well-being are generally more productive and successful in their careers. They often perform better at work, have higher job satisfaction, and contribute positively to workplace environments.
  6. Enhanced Creativity and Problem Solving Abilities: Well-being is linked to improved cognitive function, which results in better problem-solving skills, creativity, and innovation.
  7. Longer Life Span: Studies have shown a correlation between high well-being levels and longevity.
  8. Positive Societal Impact: On a broader scale, promoting well-being can lead to healthier, more resilient, and cohesive societies.

Strobel Education's Approach to Authentic Happiness and Well-being in Schools

Kim Strobel Workshop photo with teachers

Strobel Education’s approach to fostering authentic happiness and well-being within schools is deeply rooted in the application of the PERMA model. By offering professional development that incorporates these principles, educators are equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to create an environment that nurtures the psychological well-being of both students and staff. 

Kim Strobel, education consultant and happiness coach, brings a wealth of expertise to the table, guiding educators through the intricacies of the PERMA model and The Science of Happiness. Her passion for enhancing the education sector shines through in her iconic keynote: The Science of Happiness – Ignite Your Spark & Unleash Your Potential.

This Science of Happiness Keynote provides powerful insights into understanding and unlocking the essence of happiness. Attendees will delve into the latest research surrounding happiness, deciphering its connection to our personal and professional productivity and discovering where our control over this pervasive emotion resides. 

Strobel unravels a unique happiness formula that can enhance both work life and home life, promoting a balanced work-life flow. Also, this transformative keynote empowers individuals to take charge of their actions, thoughts, and behaviors, promising a potential increase in happiness levels by up to forty percent! Participants will also explore specific happiness habits that drive positive change and acquire straightforward mental tools to guide their brain towards positivity, shaping a happier, more vibrant life perspective.

Want to help increase your staff’s happiness, productivity and engagement?

Inquire about Strobel Education's "Science of Happiness" keynote where the science behind positive psychology is unpacked with actionable tips to encourage optimizing every aspect of your life.

Ready to Integrate the PERMA Model into Your Classroom?

kidsd sitting at desks in classroom during lesson

As we’ve explored the transformative power of the PERMA model, its real-world application in the classroom becomes clear. Fostering positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and achievement is not just beneficial for our students; it’s essential for cultivating a thriving educational environment. And remember, these principles don’t solely apply within the walls of the school; they are equally valuable in nurturing our personal well-being.

If you are interested in booking Kim Strobel for a keynote or participating in any of Strobel Education’s professional development contact us today!

Subscribe to our blog today!

The PERMA Model: Understanding the Science of Happiness Individual Pay via PO

We are unable to directly process purchase orders. Please contact us with your request and we will immediately respond to assist you in purchasing.