Is the PERMA model broad enough to address all of well-being? This was a question I heard addressed at the July IPPA World Congress more than once. Here are some answers I heard from Stewart Donaldson and Victoria Cabrera from Claremont University.
Quick Review: What is the PERMA Model?
If you are aware of the field of positive psychology and you have heard of Dr. Martin Seligman, then you are likely familiar with his PERMA model of the enablers of human flourishing. The PERMA model lists ingredients in the recipe for a good life, though the exact measures of each ingredient vary from life to life. PERMA stands for Positive Emotions, Engagement (also known as Flow), Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment. Variations on Seligman’s model have added Vitality or Health. The foundational requirements for being a well-being ingredient are that each is pursued for its own sake and is defined and measured independently of the other ingredients.
Enter 4 Additional Elements
Dr. Stewart Donaldson and his research team at Claremont University further researched the PERMA model to determine if there were any other missing elements. They found four additional elements that are important for well-being and positive functioning:
- Physical health is defined as “a combination of high levels” of various types of health.
- Mindset largely stems from Carol Dweck’s work, suggesting that a growth mindset is advantageous, particularly combined with optimism and perseverance.
- Environment pertains to a healthy physical environment, aligned with the individual’s preferences.
- Economic security is also about one’s individual perceptions concerning what is required to satisfy personal financial needs.
Since 2018, research on the new PERMA+4 model has been evolving, starting with a measurement review, progressing through the validation of a 29-item scale. Recently a 9-item short scale was created and confirmed. This new PERMA+4 well-being model has strong predictive power across various settings. Research continues.
What Matters Most for Life Satisfaction?
One of Dr. Donaldson’s graduate students, Vicki Cabrera, used the PERMA+4 framework to explore the lives of full-time employees to determine which of these ingredients are most important in different contexts.Cabrera’s mixed methods research revealed that the most important ingredients for life satisfaction are positive emotions, physical health, and economic security. These were seen as the most beneficial, and they were foundational for the other ingredients to even be possible. Without positive emotions, physical health, and economic security, it seems that a sense of meaning or accomplishment, for example, may be much more difficult to attain in one’s personal life.
What Matters Most for Job Satisfaction?
However, the picture is somewhat different when it comes to job satisfaction. In the workplace, the foundational ingredients were meaning, accomplishment, and engagement. While all these factors are inter-related with small to moderate correlations, it is certainly interesting to see that we may seek different ways of flourishing at work compared to the rest of our lives outside of the work environment. It may also be that we are able to create a flourishing existence all around through the interplay of both work and non-work activities.
As someone learning this research for the first time, I was quite surprised that Relationships didn’t come up in either the work or the life categories as a foundational building block for well-being. This may be for several reasons, such as people just naturally assumed it was in place and so didn’t mention it, or that people interpreted the questions in a more individualistic manner. That said, Dr. Donaldson did iterate that, in the workplace, one’s leader matters a lot. A poor leader can easily lower the PERMA+4 of direct reports.
It will be interesting to see where this research goes and if the new model holds up or even surpasses PERMA in use and popularity. The PERMA model was already a progression from Seligman’s original model with only three factors. I am encouraged to see the thinking and science progress. Positive psychology research is becoming more nuanced, diving further into the complexities of human well-being and flourishing across domains.
Cabrera, V. & Donaldson, Stewart. I. (2023) PERMA to PERMA+4 building blocks of well-being: a systematic review of the empirical literature. The Journal of Positive Psychology, DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2023.2208099
Donaldson, Scott I., Donaldson, Stewart I., McQuaid, M., & Kern, M. (2023). The PERMA?+?4 short scale: A cross-cultural empirical validation Using item response theory. International Journal of Applied Positive Psychology. DOI: 10.1007/s41042-023-00110-9.
Donaldson, Scott I., Lee, J.Y. & Donaldson, Stewart I. (2019). Evaluating positive psychology interventions at work: A systematic review and meta-Analysis. International Journal of Applied Positive Psychology, 4, 113–134.
Donaldson Stewart. I., van Zyl LE & Donaldson SI (2022). PERMA+4: A framework for work-related wellbeing, performance and positive organizational psychology 2.0. Frontiers in Psychology. 12:817244. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.817244
PERMA Theory of Well-being and PERMA Workshops. Penn Positive Psychology Center.
Dweck, C. (2007). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Ballantine Books.
Seligman, M. E. P. (2011). Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being. New York: Free Press. Introduces the PERMA model.