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PERMA: The happiness model that’s kicking our goals

July 30, 2018   -   Scott B Harris
This image was created by Jane Taylor from Habits for Wellbeing for the article PERMA – A Well-Being Theory by Martin Seligman

PERMA. I know what you’re thinking and no I’m not talking about an 80’s style hair du. I’m talking about a new age theory of happiness brought to life by none other that than the man himself, Martin Seligman. Never heard of this chap? Don’t worry, it’s not important really, all you need to know is that he’s known as the father of positive psychology and just like yours and mine, he knows a lot of information. Some useless stuff, probably, but a lot of valuable stuff about what makes the old noggin tick. Just like with yours and mine, when he talks, you should be listening because he’s one smart cookie.

In this day and age, it’s extremely hard to nail that thing the professionals call ‘Happiness’, especially with an injured brain. So hard in fact that I search for it every day but can only find traces of it here and there. I’ve found it, somewhat, but the fact of the matter is that EVERYONE is searching for the same thing, yet very little people can find it. We’re talking about true happiness. My life is complete, kind of happiness. This is one of the hardest battles with an injured brain but reading this BLOG with an injured brain is a start.

Hard to find, yes, but impossible? No. An understanding of the PERMA model will go a long way in helping us understand how to get there. The PERMA model is a psychological tactic used to achieve ‘authentic’ happiness in life and in the things that we do. Because I live life with an injured brain, just simply knowing this is powerful for me. I’m not perfect but I understand how it works. As we know, and as I’ve mentioned on many occasion, awareness is the key and the more that we are aware of what’s going on upstairs, the easier it is to live with an injured brain.

The acronym PERMA stands for:

  • Positive emotions
  • Engagement
  • Relationships
  • Meaning
  • Accomplishment

This model is designed for happiness but the goals we set can too be squeezed into the same model. I’m going to explain both. I’m going to talk about how it can be used for happiness and how it can be used when we’re trying to smash our goals out of the park. The ‘HOME RUN’ as they say. The ‘HOLE-IN-ONE’. The ‘BULL’S-EYE’. The ‘MASTERPIECE’…ok that’s enough now, you get it. ‘DEMOLISHING THE ARENA’”. Enough!

Positive emotions

Have you ever been kicking back on the couch with your feet up, all cozy just watching the six o’clock news. The next minute you walk away thinking to yourself, “Geez, all that gun fighting and murder and theft and war, in the world has got me feeling pretty down.” Well, that’s because all the media want to do nowadays is promote negative emotions… because it sells. These are the exact emotions that we don’t want in our lives, but rather positive ones that make us warm and fuzzy inside. I can tell you that I have done the old television boycott mission on a number of occasions. Sometimes in excess of days, due to the negativity flying around. In fact, when I was traveling the world for 18-months (Which you can read about in my book Crashing Into Potential: Living with my injured brain), I was oblivious to the terror on our streets and in our world… and it felt great. In a roundabout way, what I’m getting at is to experience more happiness, than we already do, we need to cultivate those positive emotions. This doesn’t mean going around all day with a cheesy grin, it just means looking for the positive in situations rather than a negative one. A bit of optimism. The glass half full approach. You feeling me?

On top of that, we need to be seeking out those positive emotions, whether that’s stopping to smell the roses or quite simply doing an enjoyable activity that makes us feel good.

Now for goals, and using PERMA to achieve them. When setting a goal, we need to make sure the activities related to it spark some sort of positive emotion. Not all goals will spark the positive emotions, but we need the outcome to at least make us feel good. Setting a goal with this in mind will make the end result is much sweeter. You may be sitting there thinking to yourself, “Thanks captain obvious,” but although I’m pointing it out, it’s super important none the less. Not all goals that I set are full of the fun stuff, but I can tell you that when they are, boy are they much easier to achieve.


In my last BLOG post, I spoke about flow and how to produce flowments. Quite simply, positive emotions themselves ain’t gonna cut it. We can sit on a beach and feel positive emotions til the cows come home, but trust me, after lying on the beach for 5 weeks in the Greek Islands, there will come a time that you’ll get over it (I should know, it happened to me which you can read about in my book Crashing Into Potential: Living with my injured brain). That’s because we’re not engaged in anything but out tanning game. We need to be searching our world for engaging activities as well. It’s kind of a bit of a buzzword these days but applied in the right manner, it’s kind of sexy… ok, now that I’ve opened up that can of worms, let’s talk about it in that instance. What a great example of being engaged; sex. That’s what we mean when we talk about being engaged. Being right there in the moment and being at one with the activity we are doing. With Positive emotions and being Engaged ticked off the bucket list, we are now one step closer to true happiness.

To make our goals much more achievable, they need to be goals that we are totally engaged in. This is the easiest way to keep motivated and to stick it out to the end. Like everything in life, the more we want something, the harder we’ll try to achieve it and our goals are no exception. The first rule here then is that you must choose a goal for yourself. I guess it’s kind of like going to university. If you go and study to become an associate director of a major law firm (if that role even exists?) because daddy wants you too, you’re not going to try the hardest you possibly can will you? That’s because you’re not fully engaged in what you’re doing. When I went to College, I studied something that I thought I loved, but in fact I really wasn’t engaged in it and look at how long that lasted! Find a goal that aligns with your interests and no one else’s, and when they change like mine did, try a different avenue. Sorry, captain obvious is at it again I know, but it’s just something to keep in mind.


I’m not sure if it’s obvious so I’ll just go out on a limb and say it. People who have more meaningful relationships in their life are the happier people in society. There, I said it. Now, I’m not talking about having more friends, because you and I know that not all friends hold the same value. I’m talking about meaningful relationships. People that you can rely on and you know they’ve got your back when the going gets tough. The more relationships with friends, family, a partner, colleagues or anyone else you find in this world that will listen to your shit, that you can cultivate, the more happy beans you can collect. Have I achieved this yet? Somewhat, but it’s a work in progress.

A good way to achieve our goals quicker is to build relationships. Not many people in this world can say that they made it on their own. The best way to grantee a great goal kicking success rate is to get other people to buy into your dream. Ok, you need to give them a good reason to but that’s your job, I can’t do everything for you. Why do the work yourself when other people can do the work for y… ahh, I mean help you? When other people can help you? Do what you’re good at and get help with the rest. Right now, the goals that I have set requires more knowledge that I have so the best thing I’ve done is got people to fill in the gaps that I can’t.


What do they mean here (Pardon the pun)? This involves belonging to and/or serving something that we believe is greater than ourselves (Seligman, 2012). It means living our life towards a greater purpose. This can come from any which way in life; through work, something you’re involved in, the Little Tigers footy team you coach in the freezing cold, rain weather in the middle of winter, a charity you support, the Sunday night soup kitchen you cook for or whatever else you take an interest in away from your self-absorbed life. This is a totally intrinsic feeling and state of being. This doesn’t mean going to our local shelter and volunteering because you think you’ll rack up more PERMA points though. It simply means finding something that is dear to our heart and pursuing it because it’s true to our values. Quite simply doing things for others.

We will strive harder, further and more efficient toward goals if they are have meaning behind them. At the moment I’m working towards two goals. One is to educate and inspire people in my career as a motivational speaker and the other is to take a group of disabled people to Canada in 2020. This is a simple description just for argument sake but you’ll notice that both goals are aiming towards something that is much larger than me, which is making them much more inspiring to kick. Like friends, not all goals are equal, I know, but the more meaning we can put behind them, the better.


A lot of people mistake this with the word success. Achievement and accomplishment are vastly different to success. One considers personal values and the other takes into account the praise and acknowledgment of others towards us. One of them is gained by me, and one is gained by what you give me. This is quite an objective element of the model. There is a yes or no answer to the question. Did they achieve it? Well, did they? Yes or no? This element is all about the goals we have in our lives, so it kind of fits really well as the last element. Goals are my bread and butter and I swear by them. Ever since day one of my journey, I have been chasing goals and I don’t know where I’d be without them. In my BLOG Lesson #3: Kicking Goals, I talk about goals being like a roadmap and I believe that it’s not only my recovery that has benefitted for them but my life and my happiness. The feeling of achievement that I get from picking up the ball, dropping it on the boot (laces out of course) and snagging a goal from outside 50 is one of those feelings in life that I live for. If you don’t have a clue what I’m talking about or don’t even follow AFL, I’m just talking about kicking the ball through the sticks. The goals. Achieving a goal that we set out to achieve (In non-metaphorical jargon).


If you can manage to peak in all five of these elements, the studies tell us that you will achieve the ultimate level of happiness. These elements are not in a hierarchical formation so they can be gained at one’s own pace. Take away an element though and there will be something missing in our life.

I probably lack a little bit from multiple elements here but each day I wake up, I’m working on it. The biggest problem that I face, and that I am battling with, is Achievement. I have achieved a lot since my accident, from learning to talk and walk at the age of 23 to running at the age of 24. Hopping, skipping and jumping by the age of 25 and traveling the world solo at 27. Writing a book, leading a conference or inspiring people all around the country just doesn’t seem to cut it for me, and whenever I achieve a goal, I’m onto the next one. I find it hard to stop and look back at what I’ve just done. It’s a battle of my appreciation that lets me down. I’m working on it every day.

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