Getting the measure of things

Filed in Blog by on August 10, 2013 6 Comments

I told you in my first post that I wanted a flourishing life but what does that actually mean?  How will I know when I have achieved it and how do I make sure that I enjoy the journey?  I intend to use as my reference guide positive psychologist Martin Seligman’s PERMA model of flourishing.

Seligman identified five factors that he believed were necessary for well-being and that contributed to human flourishing:  positive emotions; engagement; meaning; positive relationships and accomplishment.  He chose these factors because they each contribute towards well-being, they can be pursued for their own sake and it is possible to define and measure them independently of each other.  Collectively they create a theory of well-being.  So let’s take a look at the different elements to see how things measure up.

Positive emotions – this is probably the place that most of us would start when talking about well-being.  How do we actually feel on a day-to-day basis.  How much happiness, joy, love or gratitude do we experience in our daily lives?  How satisfied do we feel with how things are working out?  There are numerous psychological assessments we can do to find this out but for now I want us just to use a quick “finger in the air” approach.  On a scale of 1 – 10 with 1 being completely unhappy and 10 being deliriously happy how happy would you say you feel with your life right now?  I have been positively working on increasing my well-being over the past three years so I would give myself an 8.  How about you?

Engagement – this is about flow, about the times in your life when you are so absorbed with what you are doing that you completely forget about everything else, time stops and you are completely at one with what you are doing.  It may be a conversation you are having with somebody, it may be a piece of art you are creating or it may be a problem you are solving.  The important thing is that you are stretching yourself, using your strengths and focusing completely on the matter at hand.  As a strengths practitioner this is the area that I work in every day as I help clients to identify and use their strengths as well as looking for opportunities to develop my own.  So using the same finger in the air approach I would rate myself 7 in this area.  I didn’t go higher because as will become apparent when we look at accomplishment I feel there is more I can achieve.  But what about you – how engaged are you with your life, do you recognise your strengths, do you use them every day?

Relationships - whether we are naturally introverts or extroverts we as humans are still social creatures and we need people around us to flourish.  If you doubt the truth of this think about how it feels when you have a serious row with a loved one or you are having problems with a work colleague or a friend snubs you in the street.  Most of us tend to become totally absorbed with these things and it doesn’t matter how good everything else may be in our lives these people issues take over.  Although we may forget it from time to time we all know instinctively that people are what is really important and that we need each other.   I have been really blessed with my relationships – youngest of five children, married a lovely man who introduced me to his fun-loving Irish family and some great friends.  However, that’s not to say its all been plain sailing in this area.  My best friend tragically died when a routine operation went wrong, we were never able to have children and I have got some things spectacularly wrong recently with certain individuals.  But I never stop trying to improve in this area so I guess I would rate this area of my life 7.  What about you?

Meaning –  The flourishing life is not one of selfishness or self-centred gratification.  It’s about recognising your connection to something that is bigger than you, making a contribution to the world and helping others.  Essentially knowing that you have made a positive difference to the world.  It doesn’t have to be grand gestures it can be taking the time to really listen to somebody or volunteering an hour a week for a local charity or picking up litter on the street.  The ethos behind my company – The Flourishing Business Ltd – is to help build thriving local communities by re-connecting people with their strengths, encouraging collaboration and recognising that we all have something to give.  It is early days for the business but I believe there is a growing momentum for social change.  So I would rate myself 6 in this area, I have made a positive start but there is still lots to do.  Your turn.

Accomplishment – And so we come to the final element, the one for me which is the most challenging and the most interesting.  You can feel great, be completely engaged in your work, have wonderful relationships with the people around you and be doing something really meaningful, however, unless you have some sense of progress or achievement it can all feel rather pointless.  Hence the joy of ticking off lists, getting to the top of the mountain or achieving something you never felt possible for you.  And the “for you” bit is what is really interesting.  It’s about your potential.  What are you capable of?  How different would your life be if you fulfilled your potential?  These are really powerful questions and ones that few people stop to think about but I want you to stop and think about them now.  It’s time to rate this final area of your life.  I can only give myself a 4 here, that’s not to say that I haven’t achieved things in my life I quite definitely have but its recognition that I have not fulfilled my potential.  In the past I have allowed fear to stop me from finding out just what I am capable of and that’s ok.  I can’t change the past but I can change the future and I am really excited to start finding out what is possible if I really apply myself.  So your turn – how are you doing in the accomplishment stakes?

So now we have a good measure of how things stand at the moment for us.  I have shared my scores with you and I hope that you will share your scores with me.  This is a journey that we are on, it will be different for all of us but it will be a lot more fun if we keep each other company along the way.

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Comments (6)

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  1. I am not able to measure or categorise my life in the way you have mentioned. Although I realise that it is helpful for some people to do this, perhaps to see if they are going ‘forwards’ or ‘backwards’ and then improve the measurements. That way they might get a sense of achievement.
    I also don’t see my life in categories as I think everything is interlinked and to separate areas out like this means you can ‘fail’ or need to improve so you start to focus and worry on a particular area eg say I was having problems communicating with my teenage daughter – I would focus on what was ‘wrong’. I would not perhaps be able to take into account a lot of factors in her life I was not aware of which would alter ‘wrong’ completely. Also my own behaviour towards her may no longer be appropriate as she is becoming an adult but this it not wrong; it merely requires adaptation. Merely a shift in thought rather than a lot of worry. Therefore I would not calculate it in figures that go forwards and backwards.m
    One of my areas might be labelled Touchstone I suppose. This could come into your relationships area above or it could come into meaning or positive emotions. I am wary of labelling things but what this means for me is finding common ground with someone, briefly, then moving on. I could find touchstone with my sister which would go on more. I find affirmation with someone in my own view of the world and have a feeling of gladness, then move on. With a partner Touchstone would mean a lot more – it’s all about affirming who you think you are or who you want to be at the time. This could vary – my touchstones with my sister may overlap with my daughter although we have different memories and different connections.
    My example of Touchstone would be turning round to someone in a queue who was a stranger and sharing a human thought or emotion which emphasises our connectivity as human beings. With different partners we might have different touchstones and they can get worn out ie when we are behaving in the same pattern all the time with that person and we want to abandon that Touchstone; it no longer serves any purpose.
    In my case Touchstone is quite thrilling when it happens on a brief, casual basis. a connection with a stranger that makes me laugh or smile affirms my place in the world.
    Another area I would call Possibility. I feel at my happiest when contemplating outcomes in my imagination. They don’t have to be real and I would certainly not call them accomplishments; they aren’t assessed as things achieved and they may never be but it doesn’t matter. I may not necessarily have a drive to put them into place but they stimulate my imagination. You may want to label it under positive emotions but I couldn’t possibly put a number on them. It is enough that I see a way ahead, not necessarily one I want to choose but who knows?
    What always keeps me going is a love of poetry and fiction writing. Thanks to listening to Jacqueline Wilson on Radio 4 I have become acquainted with Shena Mackay – what a writer! Totally immersed in an imaginative world which makes me feel very happy. Does this come under Engagement? It’s totally fictitious but it has loads of Possibilities – even when the story has ended!

  2. Another area I have just thought of – Pioneer – more of that another time.

  3. Hi Elaine, thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful response and apologies for the delay in replying I have been away on holiday. Firstly, let me say if any of my suggestions don’t work for you then please go with something else that does as where personal well-being is concerned one size certainly doesn’t fit all! The PERMA theory highlights what Seligman believes are the individual building blocks that are required for a flourishing life. However, exactly as you suggest we all combine them in different ways to create the content of our own lives guided by our values. A perfect example of which is your “touchstone” which combines two or three of the basic building blocks. I too share your love of possibility and if you haven’t read it already a book you may enjoy is “The Art of Possibility” by Benjamin and Rosamund Zander. I haven’t heard of Shena Mackay before but I will keep an eye out for her in future. Thanks for the recommendation and thank you for commenting.

  4. Hi Elaine, thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful response and apologies for the delay in replying I have been away on holiday. Firstly, let me say if any of my suggestions don’t work for you then please go with something else that does as where personal well-being is concerned one size certainly doesn’t fit all! The PERMA theory highlights what Seligman believes are the individual building blocks that are required for a flourishing life. However, exactly as you suggest we all combine them in different ways to create the content of our own lives guided by our values. A perfect example of which is your “touchstone” which combines two or three of the basic building blocks. I too share your love of possibility and if you haven’t read it already a book you may enjoy is “The Art of Possibility” by Benjamin and Rosamund Zander. I haven’t heard of Shena Mackay before but I will keep an eye out for her in future. Thanks for the recommendation and thank you for commenting.

  5. Hi Tina, Many thanks for your response and although it looks as if your suggestions don’t suit me it is really down to the science of measuring happiness which is my area of uneasiness although I am sure there are rafts of scientists in the wings ready to prove otherwise!

    My problem is that if we start measuring our happiness with plus or minus figures then we start setting up ‘goals’ which we may or may not reach – add or minus one is a harsh way to deal with the human psyche and I don’t agree with it – what if you achieve it first time, fall short again and then have to revaluate? It is difficult to recover from ‘fail’.

    Figures are very rigid as ways of measuring development although I can see they would be (lazy) ways of evaluating someone’s ‘improvement’. I have come across this myself when I have had to evaluate my ‘feelings’ on a 0-10 basis of low or high mood and then after ‘treatment’ another evaluation. This had to show improvement to fulfil NHS targets. Obviously there is a high expectation to succeed in order to obtain funding and as the subject you feel the pressure to feel ‘better’.

    Thankyou for your book recommendation of the Art of Possibility and I will see if it’s available in my local library – I was once recommended to read ‘Creative Visualisation’ by Shakti Gawain by a therapist and when I read it I realised I was actually doing everything in that book – I didn’t need to visualise anything because I already did it! I think a lot of self help books are like that – just verbalizing what you already know.

    The Shena Mackay author I have mentioned is purely fictional – this is the great thing about fictional writers they capture the essence of living and mix it up with your maybe feelings – they are past masters of the nuances of self esteem! Sometimes you read them and they crystallise and make sense of how you really feel about life, sex, death.
    Perhaps the fiction allows them to reveal the roughness of feeling without any plusses and minuses – my feeling at the moment is that there aren’t any good and bad feelings, only hard and soft edges.

  6. Hi Tina, Many thanks for your response and although it looks as if your suggestions don’t suit me it is really down to the science of measuring happiness which is my area of uneasiness although I am sure there are rafts of scientists in the wings ready to prove otherwise!

    My problem is that if we start measuring our happiness with plus or minus figures then we start setting up ‘goals’ which we may or may not reach – add or minus one is a harsh way to deal with the human psyche and I don’t agree with it – what if you achieve it first time, fall short again and then have to revaluate? It is difficult to recover from ‘fail’.

    Figures are very rigid as ways of measuring development although I can see they would be (lazy) ways of evaluating someone’s ‘improvement’. I have come across this myself when I have had to evaluate my ‘feelings’ on a 0-10 basis of low or high mood and then after ‘treatment’ another evaluation. This had to show improvement to fulfil NHS targets. Obviously there is a high expectation to succeed in order to obtain funding and as the subject you feel the pressure to feel ‘better’.

    Thankyou for your book recommendation of the Art of Possibility and I will see if it’s available in my local library – I was once recommended to read ‘Creative Visualisation’ by Shakti Gawain by a therapist and when I read it I realised I was actually doing everything in that book – I didn’t need to visualise anything because I already did it! I think a lot of self help books are like that – just verbalizing what you already know.

    The Shena Mackay author I have mentioned is purely fictional – this is the great thing about fictional writers they capture the essence of living and mix it up with your maybe feelings – they are past masters of the nuances of self esteem! Sometimes you read them and they crystallise and make sense of how you really feel about life, sex, death.
    Perhaps the fiction allows them to reveal the roughness of feeling without any plusses and minuses – my feeling at the moment is that there aren’t any good and bad feelings, only hard and soft edges.

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