well-being theory -- 6/10/20

Today's selection -- from Flourish by Martin E.P. Seligman. Well-being theory:

"The five elements [of well-being theory] are positive emotion, engagement, meaning, positive relationships, and accomplishment. A handy mnemonic is PERMA. ...

"The first element in well-being theory is positive emotion (the pleasant life). ...

"Engagement [is the second] element. ... Positive emotion and engagement are the two categories in well-being theory where all the factors are measured only subjectively. ... [Both] easily meet the three criteria for being an element of well-being: (1) Positive emotion and engagement contribute to well-being. (2) They are pursued by many people for their own sake, and not necessarily to gain any of the other elements ... (3) They are measured independently of the rest of the elements.

"Meaning ... (belonging to and serving something that you believe is bigger than the self) [is] the third element of well-being. Meaning has a subjective component ... and so it might be subsumed into positive emotion. recall that the subjective component is dispositive for positive emotion. Meaning is not solely a subjective state. The dispassionate and more objective judgment of history, logic, and coherence can contradict a subjective judgment. Abraham Lincoln, a profound melancholic, may have, in his despair, judged his life to be meaningless, but we judge it pregnant with meaning. Jean-Paul Sartre's existentialist play No Exit might have been judged meaningful by him and his post-World War II devotees, but it now seems wrongheaded ('Hell is other people') and almost meaningless, since today it is accepted without dissent that connections to other people and relationships are what give meaning and purpose to life. ...

"Accomplishment [a fourth element] is often pursued for its own sake, even when it brings no positive emotion, no meaning, and nothing in the way of relationships. ... People who lead the achieving life are often absorbed in what they do, they often pursue pleasure avidly and they feel positive emotion (however evanescent) when they win, and they may win in the service of something larger. .. Nevertheless, I believe that accomplishment is a fourth fundamental and distinguishable element of well-being and that this addition takes well-being theory one step closer to a more complete account of what people choose for its own sake. The addition of the achieving life also emphasizes that the task of positive psychology is to describe, rather than prescribe, what people actually do to get well-being. Adding this element in no way endorses the achieving life or suggests that you should divert your own path to well-being to win more often. Rather I include it to better describe what human beings, when free of coercion, choose to do for its own sake.

"Positive Relationships [is the fifth element]. When asked what, in two words or fewer, positive psychology is about, Christopher Peterson, one of its founders replied, 'Other people.' Very little that is positive is solitary. When was the last time you laughed uproariously? The last time you felt indescribable joy? The last time you sensed profound meaning and purpose? The last time you felt enormously proud of an accomplishment? Even without knowing the particulars of these high points of your life, I know their form: all of them took place around other people. Other people are the best antidote to the downs of life and the single most reliable up. Hence my snide comment about Sartre's 'Hell is other people.' My friend Stephen Post, professor of Medical Humanities at Stony Brook, tells a story about his mother. When he was in a bad mood, she would say, 'Stephen, you are looking piqued. Why don't you go out and help someone?' Empirically, Ma Post's maxim has been put to rigorous test, and we scientists have found that doing a kindness produces the single most reliable momentary increase in well-being of any exercise we have tested."

Learn more about well-being and positive psychology here: Positive Psychology Center.

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Martin E.P. Seligman




Atria Paperback


Copyright 2011 by Martin Seligman, PhD


pg. 163-165
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