PERMA and Reducing Your “Miserable” Index

It is Saturday. I am back from site. I just had Nutra Grain with a banana in it (cut into slices) for breakfast. Basically I know that Nutra Grain is not a good breakfast so I add in the banana to try and improve the ‘goodness’ of it. Then I sat down in front of the TV. I am the only person up even though it is almost midday. I clicked around trying to find something to watch on TV but at midday on a Saturday there is basically nothing worth watching on all eleven free-to-air channels.

I don’t have Foxtel, or ‘cable’ (for my American readers). I was tossing up between Green Acres, made in 1965 starring Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor, and ABC 24. In the end—as much as I do enjoy Green Acres with its pig with an IQ of 140—I went for ABC 24, the continuous ‘free’ news and events channel, and, as it happened, I was just in time to catch the start of a BigIdeas talk on PERMA.

Now, like most of you (probably), I had never heard of PERMA and I seriously was not expecting to get much out of this talk. Certainly nothing that I was going to find interesting or exciting. But right from the opening couple of minutes by the speaker I was engaged.

He told us that Freud, the Austrian neurologist who invented psychoanalysis back in the mid 1800s, said that the best any person could ever hope for out of life was ‘not to be miserable and suffering most of the time’. This engaged me because on a miserable scale of 1 to 10 I would rate my situation somewhere above 7. I found it very interesting that the father of modern phycology had determined some time ago that we are all doomed to be miserable and suffering most of the time.

The next couple of points he stated were also interesting.

He stated that economists are saying that our children cannot hope to be as wealthy as we are or were. That due to the reality of the global economic dynamics forecast for the next 50 years our kids cannot hope to enjoy the relative abundance of wealth that we in the Western World have had over the last 50 years (with the odd depression thrown in here and there). But basically, in the next 50 years the average relative wealth per person will drop due to the falling value of money, increasing taxes (in the fight against global warming and to keep paying for everything that governments provide including the escalating cost of ‘security’, wars, and health services), the increasing cost of energy (due to crude running out and the cost of alternatives being so much more expensive), and the ever increasing cost of food as it gets harder to provide enough food.

I found this first point interesting and I have made a note in OneNote to research this further. But the next point was even more interesting.

He then told us that while relative wealth will fall it is likely our kids will have a less miserable life than we have had! I am thinking, based on all of the above, how could this possibly be?

Well with those opening comments I just had to watch the rest of his talk.

It turns out the speaker, Martin Seligman, is an expert, if not ‘the’ world’s expert, on Positive Psychology and a “theory of wellbeing” (as he puts it) that he calls PERMA.

Because I don’t want to write thousands of words in this post (because research shows that people hate reading long posts) I will just summarise a few “take-away” bullets from the talk:

  • The talk is about PERMA and how the components of PERMA govern a person’s overall wellbeing.
  • PERAM stands for Positivity (Positive Emotion and Happiness), Engagement, Relationships, Meaning (Pleasure), and Accomplishment (Achievement).
  • According to the PERMA studies a person’s “Positivity” is 50 percent inherited and is only increasable by lifestyle changes during your life by a maximum of 15 percent.
  • People mostly only achieve their highest ‘positivity’ states in the company of other people. High-positivity is rarely, almost never, achieved when you are solitary.
  • Based on a PERMA survey of 23 European countries the top three ‘least miserable’ countries were Denmark, Switzerland, and Austria. The UK and Germany are in the middle. France (who would have thought?) and the former Soviet Union are at the bottom.
  • We are most happy (least miserable) when our highest coping strengths and abilities are just matched the challenges that are coming our way. It is at this point we go into what the PERMA theory refers to as ‘free flow’. Challenges that are too easy compared to our strengths will generate misery as do challenges that we cannot cope with.
  • Statistically marriage counselling is the single worst form a physiotherapy. You are dealing with people who are lying to you, lying to themselves, and lying to each other. Marriage counselling is successful if you can take an ‘insufferable marriage’ and move it forward to ‘barely tolerable’. That is success.
  • When it comes to feeling good for longer doing something philanthropic (giving) trumps doing something fun. When you do something fun then when it’s over, it’s over. It’s done. The emotional well-being flow is gone. When you do something philanthropic the wellbeing payback can last days, weeks, months, and even years.
  • Quote from the talk: “If you are depressed or miserable right now the one single most effective thing you can do for a boost is to go out and help another person.”
  • Discipline and focus are at least twice as important as IQ in achieving success.