The other PERMA – practices for personal sustainability

Most people involved in sustainability know about permaculture – the system of agricultural and social design principles some call “a revolution disguised as gardening”.  Many of them practice it to feed their families and their neighbours.

But there’s another PERMA – a set of principles for flourishing developed by Martin Seligman, the founder of Positive Psychology.

Don’t drown in “what’s wrong”

Anxiety and risk avoidance were evolutionary success factors when we face sabretooth tigers, fire and flood.

In a world where more and more people are getting past immediate physical danger, the things that used to help us actually become toxic.

Seligman has been studying helplessness, optimism and authentic happiness for over 20 years and developed a set of tried and tested principles (tested in double-blind clinical trials) for flourishing in a world where physical danger is the exception rather than the rule.

Build your resilience with PERMA

The five principles form an acronym – PERMA.  The acronym stands for:

  • Positive Emotions
  • Engagement
  • Relationships
  • Meaning
  • Achievement

In summary, these key words/phrases describe the elements that enable humans to flourish:

  • Experiencing Positive Emotions – not just “happiness” but other feelings such as acceptance, peace and relaxation.
  • Experiencing Engagement – doing something that involves you so completely that your attention is totally engaged (usually something meaningful).
  • Experience supportive Relationships with people who are “fellow travellers”, not just associates.
  • Experience activities with Meaning – working on altruistic projects that create personal meaning for you.
  • Experience the Achievement of successfully delivering a result that has meaning for you.

Martin Seligman speaks on Flourishing in this TED talk:

What are you doing to build your resilience?

You brush your teeth, you shower regularly, you recycle, you exercise – but how’s your internal territory?

If you don’t have a resilience practice, maybe an exploration of how to flourish could help you be a brighter part of the solution.

A good starting point is to identify your personal signature strengths, with this free questionnaire:

And if you get serious, there are now MOOC courses to grow your skills in well-being.

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About Leigh


Leigh is the principal of the business innovation practice Balance3 and her clients have included corporations such as Amcor, National Foods, Dair, SPC Ardmona, Kobelco, Corporate Express and New Balance as well as a range of smaller businesses and individual clients.