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Seligman’s PERMA™ model: using science to flourish at work

“The fragrance always remains in the hand of the one that gives the rose"           ~Gandhi

Happiness, flourishing, wellbeing, whichever way you spin it…we all want ‘it’. What if you get more of ‘it’ through building positive relationships at work, being kind to others, and finding meaning in your work?  It sounds a bit fluffy but it’s actually hard core science.  Seligman’s PERMA™ model measures flourishing in terms of five elements: Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment. We’ll be discussing each element and how you can attend to it in your workplace to increase your level of wellbeing. 

Positive emotions have been described by Psychologist Barbara L. Fredrickson as “joy, interest, contentment, love.” They are moments when you are not experiencing anxiety, anger or sadness.² 

Increase positive emotion in your day by carving out time to do a favourite activity, move your body, eat or drink something you love, listen to something inspiring and laugh with your colleagues. 

Have you noticed that you don’t experience fulfilment in an activity when you are not focused? Multitasking puts us in a state of partial attention because switching between tasks or getting interrupted causes our brains to stop any processing of the current task in order to load new information. This switch takes energy and increases cortisol (a stress hormone) which in turn can prevent us from experiencing engagement.

You can do some practical things as suggested by The Centre for Brain Health (University of Texas, Dallas) to optimise and engage your brain. Structure your day to challenge and not exhaust your brain. This means ensuring your work has the right level of challenge so it doesn’t make you anxious but requires your skillset.

Connection in the workplace involves building trust through listening to each other, respecting ideas, empowering and involving everyone.

You can invest in relationships by making sure you actively listen to your colleagues or by performing an ‘act of kindness’: buying a colleague a coffee, inviting them to join you for lunch, or offering a hand with work during busy periods.  Doing an ‘act of kindness’ enhances relationships because you are not only making the person you are being kind to feel good, it makes you feel good too.

Connecting with the meaning behind the tasks that you do at work. Do this by identifying what the task ultimately allows you to have; the job you love and the life you love and can afford to lead for example.

Meaning at work can also look like belonging to or serving something higher/bigger than yourself. Whether its sitting on a committee, being the first aid contact or volunteering your services to the betterment of your team. Investing in creating meaning in your life will give you lasting joy that is it is the foundation of long term wellbeing.  

It is critical to maintaining your ability to focus in order to accomplish your tasks at work. In this distracting world and workplace, this isn’t so easy.

Exercises to build directed attention (such as meditative breathing) can help you fend off internal (thoughts) and external (other people’s voices) distractions.³

You can also structure your day to best capitalise on your mental energy. So if you are a morning person, schedule deep thinking tasks for the morning and leave transactional tasks such as email for the afternoon when your mental energy is low. This simple strategy is suggested by Daniel J. Levitin, PhD, in his book The Organized Mind.⁴ Levitin suggests that using this simple brain science will ensure your effort counts and allow you to accomplish what you desire. Central to Levitin’s strategy is also making sure the recovery steps you take between tasks at work actually re-fuel your brain and don’t empty it even more. Just because you stop work, or have a social media break, doesn’t mean you are recovering. Focus on doing things that will allow you to switch off by shifting your attention and changing tasks, deep breathing mindfully, getting a cup of tea or having a positive conversation with a colleague. 

Wellbeing, according to Seligman, is depicted through the PERMA™ model. There are tangible ways to attend to each area of the model and therefore increase your level of wellbeing at work. A simple self-assessment will help you measure your PERMA and track your stronger and weaker areas within the model. Enabling people to be the best versions of themselves is my and my team’s mission; so if you have found this to be a useful read and wish to fill in the self-assessment, reach out and I can walk you through the process. If your team or organisation is interested in measuring and tracking your baseline level of wellbeing and monitoring its improvement, I can also share with you what we have done in other organisations and discuss with you what might be workable for your organisation.


  1. Flourish, Martin Seligman
  2. Role of Positive Emotions in Positive Psychology The Broaden-and-Build Theory of Positive Emotions, Barbara L. Fredrickson, 2011
  3. The Attention Revolution: Unlocking the Power of the Focused Mind, B. Alan Wallace Ph.D. and Daniel Goleman
  4. In The Organized Mind, Daniel J. Levitin, PhD