Photo Credit: Rifka Schonfeld

Martin Seligman, the father of “positive psychology” and the author of Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being believes that he has discovered the key to happiness. He argues that the term should be well-being rather than happiness because happiness is a fleeting mood while well-being is a state of being.

In 2002, Seligman wrote his first book about positive psychology and outlined what he believed were the three components of happiness. Since then, he has updated his theory to include five pillars of happiness and well-being. Seligman writes that positive psychology is “is about what we choose for its own sake. We often choose what makes us feel good, but it is very important to realize that often our choices are not made for the sake of how we will feel.” We are really aiming to understand what increases our sense of well-being. Dr. Seligman explains that the five pillars using a handy acronym: PERMA.


Positive emotion. This positive emotion is what we feel: pleasure, rapture, ecstasy, warmth, comfort, and the like. This life is not hedonistic, but is focused on the way that our choices make us feel. In other words, if we focus solely on this aspect of “happiness,” we are focusing on the “pleasant life.”

How to increase your well-being through positive emotion: Take a moment to identify the people, times, and things that give you pleasure. For example, do you enjoy taking walks in the park on a spring day? If you do, try putting flowers in your office or kitchen. This might bring you more enjoyment. Alternatively, do you enjoy the smell of freshly baked bread? Try an easy bread machine that will allow you to have fresh bread baking in the oven with little effort on your part. The idea is to find an easy way to bring more positive emotions and enjoyment into your daily routine.

Engagement. This pillar is about getting lost in the moment – while playing a great sports game, listening to music, or doing something spectacularly well without even thinking. When people are absorbed in an engaging activity, they lose self-consciousness and get into the flow. In some ways, it is the opposite of “positive emotion” because if you ask people who were fully engaged in something what they were feeling, they will usually say that they felt nothing at all.

How to increase your well-being through engagement: The best way to increase your engagement at work is to minimize your distractions so that you can enter a “state of flow.” When you are fully engaged in an activity, that loss of self-consciousness will overcome you. Another way to increase your engagement is to participate in hobbies or interests that allow you to disengage from your daily stresses. Find a physical activity you enjoy, and make time for it!

Relationships. When one of the founders of positive psychology was asked for its basic element, he answered, “other people.” Research into human behavior and evolution continues to prove the importance of positive, long-lasting interactions between people.

How to increase your well-being through relationships: In the modern world, we spend much of our time at work. Therefore, it’s important to create positive relationships in the workplace. In addition, think about your relationships with your family and friends. Are these relationships providing you with well-being? If not, think about why. Perhaps you need to spend more time devoted to them. After all, friendships and relationships take work.

Meaning. In his book Seligman writes, “The pursuit of engagement and the pursuit of pleasure are often solitary, solipsistic endeavors. Human beings, ineluctably, want meaning and purpose in life. The Meaningful Life consists in belonging to and serving something that you believe is bigger than the self, and humanity creates all positive institutions to allow this…” When we devote ourselves to something greater than ourselves, we are engaging in a meaningful life.

How to increase your well-being through meaning: It’s wonderful if you feel that the work you do contributes to a higher purpose. This provides meaning to your everyday activities. It is also important to make time in your personal life for chesed activities that can boost your sense of well-being.

Accomplishment. Accomplishment is often pursued for its own sake, even if it brings no positive emotion, no meaning, and no positive relationships into the person’s life. This relates to intangible accomplishments (winning tournaments or gaining promotions) and also to the financial realm.

How to increase your well-being through accomplishment: If you think you aren’t spending enough time and energy on accomplishing your dreams, now is the time to start! Think about what your dreams are – and then figure out how to make more time in your life to accomplish them. On the flip side, if you feel you’re spending too much time on accomplishments, take a step back, reassess and figure out one of the other four pillars you can incorporate to achieve a better balance in your life.

Of course, Dr, Seligman’s theory has changed over the last decade, but the idea is the same: we can achieve happiness or well-being through our own actions. It’s just a matter of finding the places in our lives that we can inject a bit more positive psychology.


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An acclaimed educator and social skills ​specialist​, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at