Instead of thinking of mental health as a burden you must shoulder, imagine it as an opportunity to experience peace and joy. In the same way that we make time for our physical needs, such as eating and sleeping, we must devote attention to our psychological needs.
“An ounce of prevention.”
Where do we begin?
Perma Theory of Happiness and Well-Being
PERMA is a framework for happiness and well-being developed by Dr. Martin Seligman, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania. The model contains five key indicators of human flourishing: Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, Achievement.
Feeling good is an essential part of well-being. That said, it’s easy to get lost in a spiral of negativity—What’s wrong? Who’s to blame? Why did this happen to me?—leaving little time in the day for appreciation, wonder, and fun.It’s essential to schedule good-vibe moments into each day. Here are some ideas:
- Begin the day with inspiring quotes on your bathroom mirror.
- Create a spa atmosphere for morning coffee with music and candles.
- Listen to upbeat music and podcasts on your way to work.
- Start conversations with your dreams, not your stressors.
- Put a 20-minute daily time limit on blaming and complaining.
- Go to bed visualizing three new things you’re grateful for that day.
Joy needs room to breathe. And so do you.
Remember when you were a kid playing with friends, and before you knew it the street lights came on? If it wasn’t for your mom yelling your name, you would be outside playing all night long. In that moment, you were in a state of flow. You were completely engaged in what you were doing, independent of everything around you. Your mom could have called your name for hours, and you wouldn’t have heard a word. One hundred percent of your attentional capacity was taken up by the activity right in front of you.
Most likely you still experience a state of flow and engagement, but not as often as you like. Engagement is important for mental health—when you’re completely absorbed by a task, your mind has no capacity left over for distressing thoughts and emotions.
Activities that create a flow state include:
How will you engage fully in your life today?
Social support is an important buffer for life’s challenges. That said, not all associations are created equal. Some relationships, unfortunately, lead to a deterioration in mental health. Choice is a powerful tool when it comes to well-being and happiness.
Consider the following when you spend time with people:
• Do you feel uplifted or drained?
• Do you feel listened to or ignored?
• Do you feel encouraged or criticized?
Stay close to people who make you feel better about yourself and avoid or limit time with those who leave you feeling like less of yourself.
Meaning comes from serving something bigger than ourselves. Whether it be family, charity, occupation, or community, meaning unites us in a common vision and gives us the will to get through adversity.
“All for one. And one for all.”
That said, meaning can appear elusive to some, so why not consider one purpose each day. Begin with a typical workday. Choose one purpose, and do something to give meaning to that purpose. I’ve listed a few options, as well as an example for each:
• Pick one person—thank a custodian for their hard work.
• Pick one place—post uplifting notes and quotes on a section of the wall.
• Pick one time—declare 3 pm gratitude hour.
You might not have your dream job, but you can find the dream in your job.
Achievement is the final component of the PERMA model, and, in many ways, its foundation. Goals give us a sense of achievement and satisfaction, helping us to know if we are headed in the right direction. The key is to balance our drive and determination with the right level of difficulty. If we set a goal that’s too easy, we get bored. If it’s too hard, we experience learned helplessness.
The solution? Set daily goals that are achievable and tied into our highest dreams.
How will you seize your goals—big and small—today?
Flourishing with PERMA
Cultivating mental health daily prepares us for the big things in our life. Every little bit counts, everything adds up. So start here, right now. Small things on repeat can change the world.
Visit DrAndreaDinardo.com to learn more about her TEDx talk and positive psychology programs.