Approaching High Schoolers’ Anxiety Levels with The Engaged Life Method

Annie Ballard
What is Positive Psychology?

Positive Psychology is a branch of psychology which focuses on what makes people happy. But what is happiness? While there is not one true founder of positive psychology, Martin Seligman is one of the famous names associated with this branch of psychology. Seligman developed a model abbreviated by: PERMA, which describes the 5 main components of happiness. P, positive emotion, focuses on our ability to “look on the bright side,” in viewing our situations through an optimistic mindset. E, engagement, focuses on finding activities to immerse ourselves in. R, relationships, emphasizes the importance of having strong, healthy social connections with others. M, meaning, highlights the importance of living a life with a purpose where we feel that we are making an impact on our community. Finally, A, accomplishments, encourages us to have ambition and set goals for our lives, pushing ourselves to thrive and flourish.

Focus Group: High Schoolers with High Anxiety

Being a sophomore at the Westminster Schools, I decided to focus my project around high school students with high levels of anxiety. I chose this particular focus group because not only was it a group that I could relate to on a personal level, but I also have many friends who were going through similar anxiety issues. I really wanted to see the impact I could make on those around me, and was even able to make some changes in my own life.

Across the United States, teenagers are ranked as the #1 most stressed out age group. While stress is not entirely bad for you, the level of anxiety that teenagers today place on themselves is overwhelming. This stress comes from just about every aspect of our lives: schoolwork, social anxiety, college decisions, financial crises within our families, etc. When not handled correctly, these anxieties can grow out of proportion causing teenagers to make unhealthy decisions.

What is the Engaged Life method?

In order to approach this issue, I chose to guide my research and ideas toward a positive psychology concept called The Engaged Life. The Engaged Life branches off the E in Martin Seligman’s PERMA model. E for Engagement encourages us to grow and nurture our skills and strengths, unique to ourselves. According to the Positive Psychology Program, engagement is crucial in our personal happiness as “we all need something in our lives that entirely absorbs us into the present moment, creating a ‘flow’ or blissful immersion into the task or activity.” This idea immediately feeds into the Engaged life which pushes us to use our own strengths to accomplish challenge causing us to be “authentically happy.” When we use these strengths and skills in an engaging activity, we will be able to achieve a greater sense of accomplishment and appreciation for ourselves.

Ideally, these activities would help us to enter into a state of ‘flow.’ Flow is a concept invented by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, which he perfectly describes as “A state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.” However, in achieving the Engaged Life with a sense of flow, it is important that one recognizes that balance is crucial. The chosen activity must be a personal balance between challenging enough to keep one engaged, but not too challenging where it becomes a source of stress, defeating the purpose of the activity.

My Solution

In combining these two topics, I want to encourage teenagers who deal with varying levels of anxiety to remove themselves from such high stress situations by immersing themselves in activities and pastimes that they are passionate about, where they can find a sense of flow.


Your Chance to Share

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Flow, the secret to happiness. Performance by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, 2004. Ted, TED Conferences, Accessed 22 Apr. 2018.

Maideberg, Michelle. “The Growing Teen Epidemic: Stress.” The Hill [WASHINGTON DC], 4 Jan. 2017, Accessed 20 Apr. 2018.

“Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: All about Flow & Positive Psychology.” Positive Psychology Program, Positive Psychology Program B.V., 16 Dec. 2016, Accessed 20 Apr. 2018.

Ossola, Alexandra. “High-Stress High School.” The Atlantic, 9 Oct. 2015, Accessed 20 Apr. 2018.

The PERMA Model. Positive Psychology Program, Positive Psychology Program B.V., 24 Feb. 2017, Accessed 20 Apr. 2018.

“The PERMA Model: Your Scientific Theory of Happiness.” Positive Psychology Program, Positive Psychology Program B.V., 24 Feb. 2017, Accessed 20 Apr. 2018.

“Positive Psychology.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, Accessed 20 Apr. 2018.

“Positive Psychology: Engagement.” ReachOut, ReachOut Australia, Accessed 20 Apr. 2018.

Sifferlin, Alexandra. “The Most Stressed-Out Generation? Young Adults.” TIME, 7 Feb. 2013, Accessed 20 Apr. 2018.

“Stress by Generation.” American Psychological Association, Accessed 20 Apr.

Addition: My school’s youtube channel from some of the footage in the video: @WestminsterWCAT on Youtube!

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  1. April 28, 2018 by Julia.Leet

    Hi Annie!! I love you project so much! My middle school counselor just gave a presentation on positive psychology at my school, and it’s super cool! I completely relate to the high levels of anxiety you are talking about, and ironically, my excuse for not being mindful is that I don’t have time. Your project really reinforces the importance of taking the time to do the things you love. Great work!

  2. April 30, 2018 by Grace

    You chose a really interesting topic and captured it in your title, which drew me in, and I like how you chose one specific issue and population (teens with anxiety) to focus on and actually create change. I actually go to Westminster too (total coincidence that I found your presentation) and I know how prevalent anxiety is at our school so it’s awesome to see you address a real and important issue. Your use of a padlet for the interactive component was also neat because most people did polls and quizzes so it was cool to see something different.

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