Grounded in theory. Always learning.
The PERMAH Wellbeing Survey Tool is grounded in the psychological theory originally proposed by Dr. Martin Seligman (2011) based on over twenty years of wellbeing studies. Dr. Seligman’s theory outlines five essential factors that contribute to a person’s sense of wellbeing at any age:
Boost mental, physical and social resilience by prioritizing moments of regular heartfelt positivity, lowering stress and mindfully navigating emotions, even when we feel overwhelmed. For example: Sharing what’s working well, getting out into nature, finding reasons to laugh, naming emotions, decoding stress responses.
Improve confidence and creativity by developing our neurological strengths – the things that you’re good at and enjoy doing – even if we’re not sure what they are yet. For example: Discovering and developing your strengths, creating moments of flow, being mindful, staying playful.
Fuel psychological safety and belonging by building more trusting and inclusive relationships, even when we disagree with each other. For example: Listening empathetically, building trust, doing a five-minute favor, random acts of kindness, practicing forgiveness, reaching for curiosity instead of judgment.
Elevate motivation, commitment and satisfaction by making even the most mundane task meaningful, without burning out. For example: Finding the purpose in meaningless tasks, scheduling real breaks, setting boundaries, making a positive difference in the community, feeling connected to country.
Cultivate grit and realize our potential by practicing a growth mindset to support learning even when the pressure to deliver can feel paralyzing. For example: Setting learning goals, investing in small wins, owning failures, reaching for self-compassion, celebrating what’s been learned each day.
We (and many others, including the World Health Organization) believe that physical health – eating well, moving regularly, resting, recovering and sleeping deeply, even when we’re busy – is also a key part of wellbeing so we have added this measure to our study and with Dr Seligman’s permission we refer to this model as “PERMAH” – adding the H for health.
Much like we attempt to describe the construct of weather by elements such as temperature, humidity, wind speed, and barometric pressure, the PERMAH elements attempt to explain wellbeing in a similar way (Seligman, 2018). The factors were included in the model by Dr. Seligman because each factor independently leads to wellbeing, can be pursued for its own intrinsic value and not as a means to an end, and can be defined and measured independently of all others (Seligman 2011).
Dr. Peggy Kern, one of The PERMAH Wellbeing Survey Tool co-creators, and her colleagues (Butler & Kern, 2016) developed The PERMA Profiler to measure each of the five factors of PERMA (three items per factors, 15 items total) in addition to physical health, negative emotions, loneliness, and happiness. The Profiler has been translated into Turkish (Ayşe, 2018), Japanese (Watanabe et al., 2018), Greek (Pezirkianidis et al., 2019), Mandarin (Kern et al., 2018; Lai et al., 2018), and German (Wammerl et al., 2019) and been used in a range of research applications, including comparing population levels of wellbeing across countries (Iasiello et al., 2017; Khaw & Kern, 2015) and measuring the wellbeing of staff (Kern et al., 2014; Lovett & Lovett, 2016).
Much empirical research has been conducted to date on Dr. Seligman’s wellbeing building blocks (Donaldson, 2019; Donaldson, Lee & Donaldson, 2019; Heshmati et al., 2020; Kern, Waters, Adler, & White, 2014; Watanabe et al., 2018), often using the PERMA Profiler. Some studies have found that rather than comprising five or six distinct building blocks of wellbeing, the PERMA Profiler surfaces a three-factor structure comprised of Positive emotion, Relationships-Meaning, and Accomplishment-Engagement (Khaw & Kern, 2015) or only two factors (Umucu et al., 2019; Ryan et al., 2019). And Goodman et al. (2018) found that the PERMA building blocks were strongly associated with subjective wellbeing (SWB), and may even be synonymous and thus redundant as a wellbeing measure.
We have not chosen the PERMA wellbeing theory because we believe it has been conclusively proven as the roadmap to wellbeing; after all, good science is never proven but is an evolving process of ongoing learning and refinement. Rather, we have chosen it because we’ve found that Dr. Seligman’s assertion that the PERMA framework provides a useful, easy way for people to understand, measure, and take action about their wellbeing using evidence-based research and tools holds true. This finding was recently supported in a meta-analysis of positive psychology interventions in workplaces (Donaldson, Lee & Donaldson, 2019) that revealed PERMA-focused wellbeing interventions, because of their multidimensional approach to wellbeing, had a positive effect on work outcomes and wellbeing.