KEYS TO A HAPPY LIFE | Somerset College
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17th June 2022

Life can be difficult and sometimes happiness is hard to find, but it’s not out of reach. It may be worth giving some attention to psychologist, Martin Seligman’s theory of happiness. Seligman formulated the PERMA model and labelled this acronym as the building blocks to wellbeing and satisfaction with life. In other words, they are the keys to a happy life.

P for Positive Emotions. Being positive goes beyond the smile on your face. It’s about feeling good. It helps us to perform better at work. Being positive improves our health, strengthens our relationships and inspires us to be creative. Best of all it helps us to be hopeful. Feeling good can be contagious. Sharing your good feelings with others will make them enjoy your company more. Take a moment and reflect on what is good in your life.

E for Engagement. This is not about the engagement to be married nor about the lyrics of a song that says “if you want to be happy for the rest of your life”. According to Seligman, we will most likely be fulfiled when we are engaged in activities that absorb and inspire us. We know that we don’t thrive when we are idle. When we get bored we feel useless. However, when we engage with life and work, we become absorbed and satisfied. Here are some ways to increase engagement in our lives:
• Participate in activities that you really love where you lose track of time when you do them.
• Practice living in the moment, even during daily activities or mundane and boring tasks.
• Spend time in nature, watching, listening, and observing what happens around you.
• Identify and learn about your character, strengths and do things that you excel at.   

R for Relationships.  Ever heard of the saying “no man is an island”?  We are social creatures. We have a need for connection, love, physical and emotional contact with others. We enhance our own well-being by building strong networks of relationships around us with family, friends, co-workers, neighbours and all the other people in our lives. When you belong to a community, you have a network of support around you. You know the saying, “a problem shared is a problem halved”? Well, here’s an addition to that, “happiness shared is happiness squared”.  When we share our joy with those we love, we feel even more joy. And when we love, we become more loveable. We depend on the people around us to help us maintain balance in our lives. When we are alone, we may lose perspective on the world and we forget that others may be bearing greater burdens than our own. But when we let other people into our lives, we remember to give as well as take.

M for Meaning. Your life is valuable. Maintain a sense of self-worth. Build meaning by belonging or serving something greater than yourself. The research tells us that people who report having purpose in life live longer and have greater life satisfaction and fewer health problems. Try getting involved with a cause that matters to you. Having purpose is a fundamental human need.

 A for Accomplishment. Achievement, mastery or competence. Persevere and work hard towards achieving your goals. To be self-motivated to finish what you set out to do. Accomplishment contributes to our well-being because we can look at our lives with humility and a sense of pride and celebrate our achievements.

Our world has been riddled with ‘doom and gloom’. Mental health is challenging. Life is hard. Adopt a fresh point of view from a positive psychology perspective. Take your eyes off the problems and make the PERMA model the ground rules for living your best life. An evidence-based researched model tried and tested to prove that a happy life is possible.


Lizelle van Niekerk, Head of SDU

Somerset College