PERMA Series – Part 1: ‘P for Positive Emotion’


Although we might want to feel happy all the time, the fact of the matter is that things happen in life that leave us feeling less than spritely and in a good mood. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing – not that I’m wanting the life I live to be a dire and dismal experience but its just reality that our moods naturally ebb and flow in response to what life throws our way.

With this in mind I must be clear from the outset – the ‘P for Positive Emotion’ in PERMA doesn’t mean you must expect to be in a constantly happy state. Rather, the concept acknowledges that emotional fluctuations are normal and that we will face and experience personal hardship and challenging situations in our lives. And its not that we need to be happy when we experience adversity or are faced with a crisis – absolutely not! The focus rather is on how we choose to perceive, interpret and respond to these challenges, with the understanding that the more we are able to look for and focus on the positives in even the most dire situations, the better we will be able to manage them and therefore experience more positive emotion and wellbeing. Positive emotion refers to being more positive about a situation and bouncing back from the curve balls life throws us more efficiently, rather than finding ourselves stuck and wallowing in the depths of despair with no idea about knowing how to get out.

Despite there being a few factors that may contribute to how easily an individual may be able to be positive in adverse situations (think genetics, life experience, temperament) and with the human tendency towards negativity bias, it’s important to know strategies for building positive emotion so that recovery from adverse life events can be quicker and result in post-traumatic growth instead of mental illness. These include being realistically optimistic. The basis of this idea is simply building on the positives in a situation as opposed to focusing and lamenting on the faults. And with a focus on the positive, what’s likely to happen in a shift in the intensity of the negative emotion which will generally have you feeling better within yourself but also make you more enjoyable to be around (and don’t we know the importance of connectedness as a predictor of wellbeing?).

An exercise that’s recommended for increasing positive emotion is related to gratitude and the ‘What Went Well’ exercise which focusses on the positive things in life. Seligman suggests every night writing down three blessings from the day as well as the reason that you’re grateful for it. His findings from extensive research on the benefit of this strategy include higher life satisfaction and a decreased incidence of depression six months after the exercise was done.

4 thoughts on “PERMA Series – Part 1: ‘P for Positive Emotion’

  1. I find with Positive Emotion, Mindfulness partners really well. The ability to let the emotion run it’s course and move on. I have been using three positives with some students. The challenge I find is encouraging perseverance in the task and trusting the benefits.
    To be honest, it took me years to discipline myself in daily Mindfulness, which I am now in my fifth year. I am so thankful I have persevered and been kind to myself. I shudder at the thought of not having mindfulness as my daily regime.
    A great post Louiza……I look forward to more 🙂 Kadri

    • Mindfulness is so closely linked Kadri – I agree with you completely.

      I think another challenge is changing the perception of meditation/mindfulness from being something that’s all whacky-doo to a practice which is gaining considerable international attention in research circles as MRI brain imaging is showing the changes to the the brain that regular practice brings. I too am a keen advocate and practicer and love the benefits!

  2. Have you come across Happy Rambles – great online gratitude journal with an e-mail reminder ( I set mine for 8.30pm) you can browse older entries too. Simple and effective.
    Michael Carr Gregg used it in a presentation and read a previous entry from his phone to illustrate it’s simplicity.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s