What do I love most about positive psychology? It’s proactive. Positive psychology studies people who are flourishing, discovers why, and share strategies that can be implemented to move lives further on the positive spectrum.
When I first started studying positive psychology, I thought everything revolved around one topic: positivity. As I learned more, I discovered that it all revolved around the ideas of well-being--it was a lot broader than just being positive or having a positive mindset. Positivity is important, but it is not the whole story--it is a piece of the story. Dr. Martin Seligman created the acronym PERMA to share the 5 major components of well-being: Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment. As administrators and educators, we can not only improve ourselves, but we can help our students flourish as well.
Initially, it is important to identify and define each component of PERMA:
(P) Positive Emotion
This component deals with feelings like happiness, cheerfulness, joy, gratitude, and optimism. When I begin each of my classes, I try to nudge my students towards these positive emotions. When these emotions are activated, students will be more engaged and the learning centers of their brain will be activated. Studies have shown that much of the level of our positive emotion is heritable, but there are ways to raise these levels by about 15% which can have a large impact. The What Went Well exercise I mentioned in an earlier post is an example of a proven way to grow positive emotion.
Engagement can be described as being in “flow,” where a person actually loses track of time because they are so immersed in a task. Dr. Seligman describes it as “being one with the music.” Research has shown that flow occurs when your highest strengths match your current challenge. In essence, it is important that we know our strengths...and it is important that our students are aware of their strengths. Once we understand, we can put them to use and heighten our level of engagement. In addition, we can use our signature strengths to work through difficult situations.
The positive and healthy relationships we have are integral to our well-being. We are a connected species; the people we spend our time with have a direct impact on our ability to flourish in life. Being connected to others is not a natural skill for everyone, but there are strategies that can help us form and sustain positive relationships.
Human beings inherently search for meaning or purpose in life. Meaning occurs when you belong to, and serve something, bigger than the self.
Accomplishment is pretty straightforward, but working through a task to the end is very rewarding. Characteristics like grit and self-discipline are highly linked to this category.
As educators, we should work to draw out, grow, and celebrate each PERMA component in ourselves and our students. If we do, a fulfilling life will follow.