Seligman: 5 elements for happiness (at work)

Martin Seligman – the founder of the positive psychology – has upgraded his previous theory: authentic happiness. Authentic was about happiness being based on three elements (positive emotions, engagement and meaning / purpose0. The upgraded theory aims at well-being. Well-being is about more than happiness and life satisfaction; it is about flourishing. Seligman revised his theory for three reasons:

  1. the emphasis on happiness resulted in too much focus on the element of positive emotions;
  2. measurements of happiness and life satisfaction are determined mainly by how we feel at the moment of the measurement and this definition of happiness is too narrow;
  3. the three elements insufficiently describe all motives that people have for pursuing happiness. The three elements do not pay attention to achieving results for the sake of achievement.

The five elements in the revised theory that are determining well-being can be summarized in the acronym PERMA:

Positive emotions: pleasure, ecstasy, warmth, comfort, etcetera.

Engagement (flow): the feeling of being one with what you are doing, that time stops and that the loss of self-consciousness because the activity is absorbing your. This feeling can also be described as flow.

Positive Relations: people are social beings and life gets its meaning in interaction with others.

Meaning (purpose): working on something that is bigger than yourself.

Accomplishment (achieving results): pursuing success, achieving results.

These five elements are linked to the five building blocks and the four intervention strategies for organizations. Positive emotions, positive relations and meaning are the same. Competence refers to the ability to achieve results (given the talents and challenges) – so is similar to accomplishment. The only element that does not come back is the element of engagement. Engagement and flow in my opinion are the result of properly applying the five building blocks and four intervention strategies. If people and organizations do that well, a feeling of flow and engagement will follow automatically.



Seligman, Martin, 2011, Flourish – A New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being – and How To Achieve Them, Nicholas Brealey Publishing