Main FAQs

Positive psychology is the scientific study of human flourishing. Born from the need to balance decades of psychological research into ways of fixing what goes wrong with us when we experience mental illness, positive psychology tries to identify, cultivate and maintain the true, the good and the possible that exists within each of us.

“Positive Psychology is not a self-help movement or a re-packaging of “the power of positive thinking.” It is not American-style “happy-ology,” and it is not a passing fad. Positive Psychology is a science that brings the many virtues of science – replication, controlled causal studies, peer review, representative sampling (to name a few) – to bear on the question of how and when people flourish.” (Robert Biswas-Diener, 2008)

Focused on what makes life worth living, positive psychology tries to help us rise to life’s challenges, and to make the most of setbacks and adversity. It explores ways to authentically engage and relate with others. It tries to open pathways for us to find fulfillment in creativity and productivity. And to help us look beyond ourselves so we can help others to find lasting meaning, satisfaction and wisdom (Keyes & Haidt, 2004).

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Often identified as one of the founders of positive psychology, during his 1998 presidential address to the American Psychological Association Martin Seligman called on his colleagues to invest as much of their time and funding on researching human strengths as they were on human misery. Since this time his main mission has been to unite researchers and practitioners in the scientific study of human flourishing.

A leading authority in the fields of resilience, learned helplessness, depression, optimism and pessimism, he has written more than 275 scholarly publications and 20 books. Among his better-known works are Flourish, Authentic Happiness, Learned Optimism, The Optimistic Child, Helplessness, and Abnormal Psychology. Martin’s work has been featured on the front page of the New York Times, Time, Newsweek, U.S. News and World Report, the Reader’s Digest, Redbook, Parents, Fortune, Family Circle, USA Today and many other popular magazines.

Martin is the recipient of two Distinguished Scientific Contribution awards from the American Psychological Association – the Laurel Award of the American Association for Applied Psychology and Prevention and the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Society for Research in Psychopathology. He received both the American Psychological Society’s William James Fellow Award (for contribution to basic science) and the James McKeen Cattell Fellow Award (for the application of psychological knowledge).

There are numerous theories on how we can cultivate wellbeing (Ryff & Keyes, 1995; Huppert & So, 2013), but one of the most popular is that put forward by Professor Martin Seligman (Seligman, 2011), which suggests that wellbeing is cultivated by the presence in our lives of positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment.

This framework is often referred to as ‘PERMA’.

Other researchers – ourselves included – also believe that the cultivation of your Health by eating well, moving regularly, and sleeping deeply is one of the hygiene factors of wellbeing. Everything just gets easier when this is present.

So in this tool we’ve added Health to Marty’s framework, making it ‘PERMAH’.

POSITIVE EMOTION the right balance of heartfelt positivity to boost our resilience
ENGAGEMENT the regular development of our strengths – those things we’re good at and enjoy doing
RELATIONSHIPS the creation of authentic, energizing connections
MEANING a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves
ACCOMPLISHMENT the belief and ability to do the things that matter most to us
HEALTH eating well, moving regularly, sleeping deeply

Just like muscle groups, or areas of fitness, these areas of wellbeing can be tested, targeted and developed through the practice of ongoing ‘Positive Interventions’ (Sin & Lyubomirsky, 2009). Created by wellbeing practitioners and researchers around the globe, these include exercises like keeping a gratitude journal, breaking the grip on rumination, developing your strengths, finding meaning in small tasks and overcoming self-doubt. There are more than 200 (and growing) positive interventions you can try.

But just how much change should you expect? Researchers suggest (Diener & Biswas-Deiner, 2011) that just like we each have an optimal body weight range that can be maintained by eating well and exercising, this may also be true for our wellbeing. This means that feeling good and functioning effectively will look a little different for each of us, so our focus should be on finding small, consistent actions that enable us to live at the optimal end of our own wellbeing range.

This is why when it comes to cultivating and maintaining your wellbeing; it’s best to think of it as journey rather than a destination. Your ability to feel good and function effectively will ebb and flow over time depending on what’s happening at work and in your life. Rather than aiming for one perfect score consistently, the goal is to become an informed and active participant in shaping your wellbeing as you navigate the highs and lows we all experience.

Finally, remember that there will be times in your life when expecting yourself to flourish would not be a healthy goal. For example, when you’re grieving or navigating a serious illness what you may need most is the permission to just ‘mindfully function’, to get by using what you’ve learnt about maintaining your wellbeing to gently care for yourself during this time.

It’s important to be clear that the research simply tells us what works for some of the people, some of the time. While it can help inform and accelerate our practises, the most important step in improving and maintaining your wellbeing is figuring out what works best for you. For example, researchers suggest (Lyubomirsky & Layous, 2013) that the kind of person you are (everything from your age, personality, cultural background, beliefs and what motivates you) and the kind of activities you try (everything from how long and how often you do it to the kind of social support you have) will determine which interventions work best for you.

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It’s important to note that just because something has been ‘tested’ does not mean it’s been ‘proven’. These interventions are neither ‘magic bullets’ nor ‘slam dunks’. Research simply tells us what works for some of the people, some of the time. As such they are suggested approaches for you to experiment with and by using the PERMAH Workplace Survey measures you can see what impact, if any, they are having for you.

If something doesn’t work, there’s nothing wrong with you. It just means that particular intervention isn’t a good fit for you, so try something else. That’s why we’ve offered you so many different choices. Over time we hope the anonymous information you provide us about yourself, what you tried and how effective it was will help us to better select the interventions most suited to people just like you.