PERMA model of happiness: A class discussion

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Lots of people want to know the key to happiness. In my Intro Psych course, we cover Seligman’s PERMA model (Seligman, 2018). The PERMA model provides pretty good formula.

P is for positive emotions. Emotion regulation, stress reduction, and coping strategies can all help foster positive emotions.

E is for engagement. Mindfulness can help us stay engaged in the moment. Activities that foster a state of flow will do it, too.

R is for relationships. We are happier when we feel connected to others. Those connections do not need to be deep. Casual conversation with strangers can help us feel like we are part of a community.

M is for meaning. Feeling like our lives have meaning and purpose contribute to our sense of happiness. Doing meaningful work—in a job for pay or as a volunteer—is one path. Some find meaning through their religious beliefs or through their family.

A is for accomplishment (or achievement). Accomplishing things we set out to do contributes to our happiness. Celebrate those achievements.

After introducing the model, gives students a minute to think about someone they know who they believe is happy. Ask students to jot down what they’ve observed in this person that may fit each PERMA component. Next, give students an opportunity to share their observations in pairs or small groups. Invite volunteers to share examples from each component in turn.

New retirees may face PERMA challenges. For example, when our work lives provide us with engaging activities, relationships with coworkers, days full of meaning, and opportunities for accomplishment, stepping away from work can leave a vacuum that may take us by surprise. Of all of these, losing relationships with coworkers may be the biggest hurdle with finding new meaning in life not far behind (Schulz & Waldinger, 2023).

While much research has focused on the transitions from a life of work to retirement, that’s a bit far removed from the lives of most (but not all!) of our students. I wonder, too, about other kinds of life transitions. If time allows, ask your students to describe any PERMA-related challenges they faced as they moved from high school to college or to work. Or what PERMA-related challenges they can envision as they transition from college to their future work life.

Consider taking a moment to reflect on your own PERMA state. In the components where you rate yourself as being a little thin, what changes can you make?



Schulz, M., & Waldinger, R. (2023, March 10). An 85-year Harvard study on happiness found the No. 1 retirement challenge that “no one talks about.” CNBC.

Seligman, M. (2018). PERMA and the building blocks of well-being. Journal of Positive Psychology, 13(4), 333–335.


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About the Author
Sue Frantz has taught psychology since 1992. She has served on several APA boards and committees, and was proud to serve the members of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology as their 2018 president. In 2013, she was the inaugural recipient of the APA award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at a Two-Year College or Campus. She received in 2016 the highest award for the teaching of psychology--the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award. She presents nationally and internationally on the topics of educational technology and the pedagogy of psychology. She is co-author with Doug Bernstein and Steve Chew of Teaching Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide, 3rd ed. and is co-author with Charles Stangor on Introduction to Psychology, 4.0.