What is it that allows one to flourish?

Like many seniors these days, my mother-in-law is in a difficult place.

No longer able to live safely on her own, she has recently moved into a retirement home leaving behind her beloved house where she had raised her family and lived for over 60 years.

While she is now safe and well-cared for, the truth is that her emotional well-being and happiness is very much at-risk.

I was thinking of her this week as I participated in a workshop that shared the concept of PERMA from a book called “Flourish” by esteemed psychologist Martin Seligman — the father of the Positive Psychology movement.

While traditionally the goal of psychology has been to relieve human suffering, the goal of Positive Psychology is about raising the bar for the human condition.

Understanding that happiness alone doesn’t ensure life meaning, Seligman has studied what it is that enables one to cultivate their talents, build deep, lasting relationships with others, to feel pleasure, and to contribute meaningfully to the world.

In other words, as Seligman puts it, “What is it that allows one to flourish? “

He presents the answer as PERMA which is an acronym for five pillars that need to be addressed if someone like my mother-in-law — or any one of us — is to truly flourish.

PERMA refers to the building blocks that are essential for fulfillment: (1) Positive Emotions (or happiness), (2) Engagement, (3) Relationships, (4) Meaning, and, (5) Accomplishment.

In terms of positive emotions, the research indicates that when one’s positive emotions outnumber negative emotions by a 3:1 ratio, we are more resilient, kind, and compassionate.

As a result individuals, and those who support them, need to find activities and situations that will provoke what he has identified as 10 key emotions — gratitude, hope, love, inspiration, serenity, amusement, pride, interest, awe, and joy.

Engagement is also critical because if each of us is to flourish we need work or leisure activities in which we can be totally absorbed, where time flies, our thinking is focused, and we are able to lose ourselves.

Relationships are also key as camaraderie, friendship, acceptance, belonging, love, and companionship are needed. Everyone needs to have at least one good friend and know with certainty that someone has their back.

It will be difficult to get out of bed in the morning if there aren’t opportunities for accomplishment.  We all need to have goals, a plan to put into place, and a growth mindset.

It is also important that we find meaning. In other words be part of something bigger than ourselves, work in the service of others, and know that we have a purpose and are making a difference.

So what does this mean for my mother-in-law?

Since it is apparent she is lonely, we are encouraging her to spend more time socializing with others in the retirement home rather than staying in her own room. Although she is shy by nature, we’re supporting her to engage and to take the first step in getting to know others.

Hampered by arthritis, she misses her bowling and her crocheting so we’re also encouraging her to find other hobbies or volunteer work.

While we’re not sure exactly what the future will hold, we’ll keep working on the roadmap Seligman has provided to help her find the happiness she so deserves.

Posted on 02-21-13

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