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In this lesson, we will define happiness and discuss the nebulous nature of the concept. Learn about Martin Seligman and his PERMA model, then test your knowledge with a quiz.

What Is Happiness?

Face of Happiness
Face of Happiness

Hopefully you’re already familiar with happiness – the positive emotion of contentment or well-being. The word ‘happy’ dates back to the late 14th century when it was used to describe luck; someone who was ‘happy’ was prosperous or favored by fortune.

Recipe for Happiness

The concept of happiness can be imprecise and vary according to a person’s religious or philosophical views. Even in the scientific realm, happiness is hard to pinpoint – there is no proven way to determine the factors of happiness or increase significantly a person’s level of happiness.

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But that hasn’t stopped researchers from trying. American psychologist and self-help author Martin Seligman is a pioneer of positive psychology, the branch of psychology that focuses on positive human development and helping people live more fulfilling lives, unlike the other branches of the field that focus on treating disorders.Seligman developed the PERMA model, which outlines the five elements that humans tend to have when they seem happiest. Each of these elements must contribute to one’s well-being, must be something that people often pursue for its own sake (not in order to obtain the other elements) and must be completely dependent from the other elements.

He published this model in his 2011 book Flourish.

  • Positive emotion: pleasure, peace, inspiration, gratitude or any other uplifting feeling
  • Engagement: being occupied by a task, project or event so that you experience flow (when you get lost in the moment due to intense concentration)
  • Relationships: meaningful and positive connections with other people
  • Meaning: feeling that you are contributing to something important; this can include religion, charity, a fulfilling career or something that betters humanity
  • Accomplishment: the satisfaction from having met an important goal

Rating Happiness

While happiness is generally subjective, researchers have attempted to measure happiness levels by developing rating scales. For example, the Subjective Happiness Scale, which was developed by psychology professor and researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky, is a 4-question rating system that attempts to measure your happiness. Similar rating scales include the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule and the Satisfaction with Life Scale.

Lesson Summary

Happiness can be defined as a positive emotion of contentment or well-being; however, it’s important to note that happiness can be a fuzzy concept – people’s ideas of happiness can be different. Additionally, there is no proven way to measure happiness or increase a person’s happiness, though there still exist rating systems that attempt to measure happiness, as well as the PERMA model, which tries to identify the necessary elements of happiness. Those elements are positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment.

Learning Outcomes

Following this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Define happiness and recall the problems with measuring happiness
  • Understand the scope of positive psychology
  • Describe Martin Seligman’s PERMA model and list the five elements
  • Identify scales that attempt to measure happiness

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