PERMA or the scientific definition of happiness: Applying the PERMA model in Education

Martin E.P. Seligman, an internationally known psychologist, of the Positive Psychology movement, introduced the PERMA model of well-being (2011), in which psychological well-being is defined in terms of five elements: positive emotions (P), engagement (E), relationships (R), meaning (M), and accomplishment (A). According to Seligman having PERMA equals flourishing.  According to Peterson (2006) schools are ideal institutions to provide opportunities for these elements and they should start focusing not only on academic learning but also the promotion of character and well-being.

Let’s see what the acronym PERMA stands for and how we can link each element to our teaching:  

Positive emotions are directly linked to happiness. Positive emotions coming from positive thinking and optimism help us feel less depressed when bad events occur and focus on the good things, make us feel better about ourselves and thus stronger and more confident, ready to face new challenges. They also  make other people like us more, since everybody likes positive people and last but not least promote better physical well-being.

How can we make our students feel positive?

Create a positive school/classroom climate. It all depends on building real bonds with our students. It all starts with trust. Care for our students and let them know we care. Show them they are respected. Give them chances to play, create, express themselves. Have a shared vision and work together to realize it! And don’t forget, happy students learn better! We tend to remember more things when we learn them in a happy atmosphere.

Being completely absorbed in an activity and enjoying the process of it (also known as flow, a term introduced by M. Csikszentmihályi)is something we all wish to experience as often as possible in our lives. It is also something we all wish for our students. It’s when the bell rings and they go “How has time flown?”  It means they were so engaged in an activity, that they don’t even want to have a break! This is the ideal situation for all teachers and causes feelings of achievement for everyone, the  students and the teacher.

“In education, student engagement refers to the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught, which extends to the level of motivation they have to learn and progress in their education. Generally speaking, the concept of “student engagement” is predicated on the belief that learning improves when students are inquisitive, interested, or inspired, and that learning tends to suffer when students are bored, dispassionate, disaffected, or otherwise “disengaged.” Stronger student engagement or improved student engagement are common instructional objectives expressed by educators.”   (The Glossary of Educational Reform)

How can we engage our students?

Here are some ideas.
14 Classroom Activities That Increase Student Engagement

Relationships are one of the most important aspects of our lives. We are all happy when we build positive relationships with our parents, friends, and teachers. We recognize the importance of other people in our lives and try to be liked by others and connect with the ones we like.

How can we build strong relationships in class?

Building strong relationships in class not only between the teacher and the students but also among the students themselves is a key element for success.  Authenticity of feelings, respect and co-operation promote good relationships. Taking responsibilities and having rights. Conflict resolution within class and by the students themselves. Teach our students to be tolerant, accept diversity and be empathetic.

Here are some tips:
Strategies for Teachers to Develop Positive Relationships with Students

Anything that gives meaning to our lives is important. It can be offering help to those in need, volunteering, participating in activities that go beyond just living for oneself. It can be religion or anything that brings fulfillment and the sense of a meaningful life.

Here is an interesting How to…

How can we teach meaning to our students?

The best way is to set an example. As James Baldwin has put it “Children have never been good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” Involve students in charities, volunteering, international organisations supporting a cause and also programmes and projects which promote values and a deeper meaning in life.

Having goals and working our way to them is what gives a purpose in life. Accomplishment builds our self-esteem and the way others see us. Even the effort we put in order to achieve something brings satisfaction. Even if we don’t succeed from the beginning we know how to try again.  Life would be useless if we didn’t set goals and tried for the better. Even small, everyday achievements give us pleasure and keep us going.

How can we help our students accomplish things?

We should first teach them how to set goals. We should always start our lesson with making our aims or objectives clear-even write them in a corner of the board for students to have a sense of progress and achievement by the end of the lesson. Then we can ask: “Have we achieved our aims/objectives?”, “How have we done so?”, to also make them aware of the process we followed , “What can we do to improve in what we have learnt so far?”, to make them think that everything we achieve needs further effort to keep. This way they can connect accomplishment to clear goal setting followed by a process that requires effort.

It is more than obvious that we are no longer just teachers who teach their subject-that is the foreign language. In a world that changes and knowledge can be gained easily, the teacher is no longer the only source of knowledge, as used to be the case. Students can get as much information as they want in a snap of a finger. We are above all educators and it is absolutely essential to teach our students other things as well. Teach them skills, teach them values, teach them happiness! This is what the times call for and this is something we should all commit ourselves to.

1. Seligman, M. E. P. (2011). Flourish. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
2. Peterson, C. (2006). A primer in positive psychology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
3. Csíkszentmihályi, Mihály (1990), Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, New York: Harper and Row

 Online References

  •   How to find meaning in Life
  •  FLOW

  •   Flow: the secret to happiness