The five building blocks of happiness

PERMA: The five building blocks of wellbeing

What is happiness? Some of us may spend our whole lives searching for it without really knowing what it is. Happiness is part of a bigger picture of wellbeing. A state of wellbeing generally means having good health, happiness and an ability to successfully cope with life’s challenges. But achieving it is a little more complex.

Psychologist Martin Seligman has helped to simplify the concept by breaking it down into five building blocks, known as PERMA. This stands for:

  • Positive emotions
  • Engagement
  • Relationships
  • Meaning
  • Achievement

Positive emotions

Positive emotions include satisfaction, comfort, pleasure and happiness. But in order to experience these emotions, we need to identify what activities bring them about. Whether that’s being with friends, listening to music or playing a sport, you can use these activities to ‘change emotional gear’.  It doesn’t mean life’s challenges will suddenly go away – it simply means you’ll find it easier to cope with them.

So it’s not about being happy all the time. It’s just about knowing what you can do to bring moments of happiness into your day. Knowing you can change how you feel in the short term will put you in greater control of your emotions in the long run.


When was the last time you were so absorbed in a task you ‘lost yourself’? This experience is known as engagement, or ‘flow’, and it comes about when we do things we enjoy, and which we’re good at. To achieve this state, we need activities which are challenging but fun, to bring about a sense of achievement, or ‘time well spent’.


Meaningful, authentic connections with other people are incredibly important to a sense of wellbeing. Regularly connecting with our network of family and friends is vital to good health. Equally, positive interactions with casual acquaintances or colleagues can significantly improve our sense of feeling valued.

People who have experienced mental illness report that the support of family and friends was the most important factor in aiding their recovery (S. Cohen, 2005).


Meaning comes from being involved in something you believe in, such as a good cause or cultural movement. That might come from your religion, from supporting a local charity or simply from showing kindness towards others. Ultimately it’s about working towards something that’s larger than yourself.


Our achievements can help build self-esteem and self-belief, whether we’re working towards one big goal or a number of smaller, everyday goals.

Ensuring your goals are achievable will set you up for success. If you’ve set a goal, try testing it against the SMART model – i.e. is it specific, measurable, achievable, rewarding and time-bound?

So while wellbeing may seem like an abstract idea, breaking it down this way will help you take little steps to improving yours.

The My Possible Self app has a number of simple, clinically-proven modules to help you on your journey to better wellbeing. Download it here and start that journey today.

Sam Weston

I am a social media manager, content writer and audio enthusiast - I set a world record once upon a time!