The five elements of happiness (and how to get more of it!)

Are you happy with your life? And what can you do about it if not? Learn how you can actually ‘measure’ happiness and how to increase your own.

If you drill down to most people’s goals, you eventually end up with ‘I want to be happy’. Money, success, fame, achievements, qualifications, relationships all mean nothing if you don’t enjoy them.

So if happiness drives most of us in our pursuit of our goals, why does it elude so many of us? And why can’t we attain that desired state along the way?

The five elements of happiness

Martin Seligman is a psychologist, author and promoter of the concept of positive psychology. In his book Flourish, he identifies five elements of emotional wellbeing and happiness, known as PERMA. These are:

  • Positive emotion.
  • Engagement.
  • Relationships.
  • Meaning.
  • Accomplishment.

The more of these elements you can include in your life, and the richer they are, it would be logical to assume the happier you have the potential to be. But how can you identify what you need more of? And how can you get more of it?

Take the Happy Exercise

To hep you ‘measure’ your happiness, we’ve created a simple Happy Exercise. All you need to do is think back over your life the past few weeks and consider the following questions:

  • Positive emotion – how happy have you felt? How many times did you laugh and have fun? How many happy memories have you made? How many moments of gratitude and contentment have you felt?
  • Engagement – how many times have you felt ‘in flow’? Have you been truly engrossed in and connected to what you are doing? How many times has time flown as you’ve become lost in an activity?
  • Relationships – how much time have you spent enjoying your family and friends? How often did you speak to your extended family on the phone, catch up with friends or really talk to (and list to!) your children and partner?
  • Meaning – have the activities you have been doing meant something to you, or someone else? Do you feel your life has value, and contributes positively in some way to someone or something? And does that meaning give you satisfaction?
  • Accomplishment – what have you achieved? Can you look back at your endeavours and feel proud at the result, and your contribution? Do you go to sleep at night satisfied with your day’s accomplishments? Are you progressing in life in some way?

Next, take a piece of paper, and divide it into five columns. At the top of each column write one of the five sources. Now list under each one all the examples you can think of from the past week that qualifies.

Don’t rush this. Spend about 30 minutes really thinking – you’ll be surprised at how many examples you can unearth, and from where. For example, look beyond your work for accomplishments – don’t limit yourself by the obvious. Remember it’s how you feel that counts.

Analysing your results

When you’re done, look at the columns. Are there any that are overflowing with examples? These are your areas of abundance. Maybe you are already aware of them, or maybe you’re surprised by how easy these columns were to fill.

Pay attention to what you have put down, and promise yourself to notice these occasions in future so you can appreciate them in the moment, and increase your feelings of contentment, joy or satisfaction. All too often we take simple pleasures for granted, and can actually think ourselves happier by noticing what we have.

Look too at the columns that are emptier or were harder to find examples for. These are the areas you can focus on to increase your happiness.

What opportunities can you think of to increase them? For example, if you score low on relationships, can you slow down and commit to spending more time with your friends or family?

Or if you are lacking in engagement, can you free up time to do something you love? Even just listening to music you enjoy in the car, getting lost in novels at bed time, or making changes to your work to find activities you enjoy more.

You may notice patterns in your examples, especially when you analyse your meaning or accomplishment responses. Are there particular activities or achievements that you feel more proud of and happy about?

Do more of what works

The secret to making this exercise work is the basic principle of any form of success – do more of what works, and less of what doesn’t!

If you identify activities and people that tick your happy boxes, spend more time on and with them. And if you spot that elements of happiness are lacking in your life, change what you’re doing that’s not making you happy.

Need more help to be happy?

You may find some interesting tips and perspectives in these articles:

Exercise can also help to lift your mood if you’re feeling blue. Take a look a these exercises for depression from MyMed for an endorphin boosting workout.

Photo by Tyler Nix