How to be happy at work – PERMA

PERMA is a check-list of attributes that we need to have in our lives in order to experience a sense of well-being and contentment. The model was developed by the Positive Psychologist Martin Seligman in Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being, Free Press, 2011.

While it was developed as a model for a happy life, it’s a great tool for helping to understand and develop happiness at work. You can use it to think about your own situation and how it might need to be improved, or if you’re a manager you might want to use it as a way to improving the well-being, enjoyment, satisfaction, motivation and commitment of your staff.

PERMA is an acronym, the attributes it stands for are:

P – Positive Emotion

Needless to say, it’s important to feel happy at work, to be in a position where we can smile, feel content, and maybe even to laugh!

The obvious way to achieve this is to be doing something that we like and which we are good at, and importantly, something that gives us a sense of achievement. We often refer to this as having ‘job satisfaction’.

Another positive emotion at work, although it’s often only thought about when it’s absent, is security. Hope is important to, and comes from knowing that there are opportunities ahead.

What does work need to provide to make you smile?

E – Engagement

Work is engaging when there is enough of it but not too much, when it challenges us, and when it uses our skills and stretches so that we grow and progress. We know when work is engaging because we perform it in a state of ‘flow’, when time stops, when we lose a sense of self and think of nothing other than the task at hand.

What engages you at work?

R – Positive Relationships

Relationships with colleagues, bosses etc. at work are crucial to our happiness. We are more likely to thrive in a work environment where there is respect, plus openness and honesty.

If there are tensions, animosity or ‘bad blood’, when authority is used badly, then stress, depression, and lack of engagement soon follow.

How are your relationships at work?

M – Meaning

Meaning comes from doing something that we believe is worthwhile. In terms of work this might mean doing something that helps others or benefits society. But it can also be something as simple as understanding how the work that we do contributes to a larger project. So, we might think of meaning as having a sense of a bigger picture.

How does the work that you do fit into a bigger process or project?

A – Accomplishment

A sense of accomplishment can be had in many ways, such as seeing a job through to completion, solving a problem, an act of creation or innovation, learning a new skill, gaining promotion. Work that leads to accomplishment starts with a goal, be it completing the next task or rising through the company to be a leader.

What are the goals that lead to your sense of achievement?

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