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Introduction

American teens are the most stressed out age group in the United States. Teens’ habits around sleep, exercise, and technology- the average teen consumes an average of 7.5 hours of media per day- may play a role in contributing to higher stress levels. Social media is a large part of the problem, because it perpetuates a culture where we are constantly comparing ourselves to others. Furthermore, many anxious and stressed teenagers turn to their phones for an escape from the real world, because inside the phone everything is controlled, while the outside world is unknown.

Positive psychology is the scientific study of strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive. The field is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play. Since World War II, psychology mainly became a science about healing, because it focused on repairing damage within a disease model of human functioning. Because of this exclusive attention on mental illness, the field of psychology had started to neglect the flourishing individual and thriving community. Dr. Martin Seligman, one of the founders of the modern positive psychology movement, notes: “By my count, we now understand and can effectively treat at least 14 mental disorders that we could not treat 50 years ago. But these victories have come at a considerable cost. When we became solely a healing profession, we forgot our larger mission: that of making the lives of all people better.”

This semester in the GOA Positive Psychology course we have studied the new field of positive psychology, all of its benefits, and how to apply it to our own lives in order to improve our overall well being. On this page, I will lead you through a workshop about the PERMA model, created by Dr. Seligman, and some gratitude practices. This workshop is meant for teenagers dealing with large amounts of stress, of which there are many at my school, and schools all around the country. I believe that everyone, especially teenagers, could benefit from learning about Positive Psychology concepts, and I hope that this workshop will provide some useful information about how to improve teen’s mental health and lower their stress levels.

PERMA Model and Well Being

The PERMA model was designed by Dr. Seligman. It is meant to describe the five building blocks that enable flourishing. Flourishing is a rough translation of the greek word “Eudaimonia,” which refers to being happy and prosperous, and the general well being of an individual. The PERMA model consists of five pillars: positive emotions, engagement, meaning, positive relationships, and accomplishment. By increasing each respective pillar of the PERMA model, you can increase your flourishing. Keeping these five pillars in mind throughout your life can make you a more happy, engaged person, and it encourages you to set goals and focus on your relationships with others. It is hard to keep our own happiness in mind when we are stressed, so I believe the PERMA model will give teenagers a structure to follow in order to increase their well being.

PERMA

The meaning behind each pillar is as follows:

Positive emotions: Positive emotions are what we feel: pleasure, rapture, ecstasy, comfort, and other words that relate to positive feelings. The goal is to live a life lead by these emotions, called the “pleasant life.”

Engagement: Engagement is all about flow. “Flow” refers to a state of mind in which you are so engaged in something that time seemingly stops, or when you are one with another thing (for example, being one with music). It is believed that flow will often cancel out positive emotions since you are so merged with whatever it is that you are doing that you don’t feel anything. Someone who is living a life aimed at engagement is living the “engaged life.”

Positive relationships: Relationships and social connections are a key part of life, since humans are social creatures that thrive on connection and interaction with others. Positive relationships are important to spreading love and joy, and will support anyone going through a difficult time, such as stressed teenagers.

Meaning: The “meaningful life” consists of belonging to and serving something that is bigger than yourself, something that gives you meaning and purpose in your life. Humanity has created positive institutions to create this meaning, such as religion, political parties, being environmentally friendly, or family.

Achievement/accomplishment: Part of having meaning in your life is feeling accomplished. Achievement gives people a huge sense of satisfaction, pride, and fulfillment. Accomplishments are essential to push humans to both thrive and flourish.

Survey:

Here is a survey I created to help me research how the PERMA model is reflected in the lives of everyday people around me. The questions will ask you to consider where you see evidence of the five pillars in your own life, and it may lead to some interesting self-reflection.

Link to survey

Gratitude Practices

Link to video

In the video above, monk and interfaith scholar Brother David Steindl-Rast explains that happiness is born from gratitude. Gratitude is an affirmation of goodness, and it is also figuring out where that goodness comes from. Research shows that simply practicing gratitude can improve your life in a number of ways. Physically, gratitude boosts your immune system, helps you sleep longer, and grateful people are far more likely in general to take care of themselves by exercising. Psychologically, practicing gratitude leads to higher levels of positive emotions, and more joy, pleasure, optimism, and happiness. Socially, gratitude leads people to be more helpful, generous, compassionate, forgiving, and to feel less lonely and isolated. In the midst of finals, I spent a week practicing gratitude, and I found even in that short amount of time that all of these things are true- and most importantly, gratitude practices helped to alleviate my stress. The gratitude practice I did was a gratitude journal, but there are many ways to incorporate gratitude into your life. Here are a few examples:

  1. Gratitude journal: Before going to bed each night, write a list of five things about that day for which you’re grateful. Some days you’ll have exciting things to write down, and some days you’ll be writing down simple joys.
  2. Gratitude collage: Try taking a picture of one thing you are grateful for every day for a week. Notice how you feel. Take a look back at the pictures every week. The more you do this the easier it will be for you to spot out the things you are grateful for. After a given time period put all your pictures together in a collage and simply be grateful for all that you have.
  3. Gratitude Walk: The goal of the gratitude walk is to observe the things you see around you as you walk. Take it all in. Be aware of the nature, the colors of the trees, the sounds the birds make, and the smell of the plants. Notice how your feet feel when you step onto the ground. Hopefully it will be easy to express gratitude for all the things that you are experiencing in the present moment.

Conclusion:

By learning about the PERMA model and gratitude practices, stressed teenagers now have tools that will not only help alleviate their anxiety and stress but also increase their happiness and overall well being. I hope this workshop provided you with an opportunity to reflect on the five pillars of PERMA in your own life, and I hope it inspired you to try doing some gratitude practices. I promise, it really makes a difference. Positive psychology is a fascinating new field, and there are tons of resources online if you wish to learn more about it. I hope you enjoyed my page, and thank you so much for reading it!

Works cited:

“APA President Address 1998, Dr. Martin Seligman.” Google Docs, https://docs.google.com/document/d/1upyC71O0-ub4z8CFM70-SUT6v3uzkY1h6–e4-BLlGI/edit. Accessed 17 April 2018.

Positive Psychology Center. The Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania, https://ppc.sas.upenn.edu. Accessed 15 April 2018.

Gregoire, Carolyn. “American teens are even more stressed than adults.” Huffpost, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/11/american-teens-are-even-m_n_4768204.html. Accessed 17 April 2018.

Emmons, Robert. “Why gratitude is good.” Greater Good Magazine, https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_gratitude_is_good. Accessed 17 April 2018.

Emmons, Robert. “10 ways to become more grateful.” Greater Good Magazine, https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/ten_ways_to_become_more_grateful1/. Accessed 18 April 2018.

“31 gratitude practices that will boost your happiness.” Positive Psychology Program, https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/gratitude-exercises/. Accessed 18 April 2018.

Seligman, Martin. “Happiness is not enough.” Authentic Happiness University of Pennsylvania, https://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/newsletters/flourishnewsletters/newtheory. Accessed 20 April 2018.

“Eudaimonia: personal happiness according to the Greeks.” Positive Psychology Program, https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/eudaimonia/. Accessed 20 April 2018.

“PERMA Theory of well-being and PERMA workshops.” Positive Psychology Center, https://ppc.sas.upenn.edu/learn-more/perma™-theory-well-being-and-perma™-workshops. Accessed 20 April 2018.

Denizet-Lewis, Benoit. “Why are more American teenagers than ever suffering from severe anxiety?” The New York Times Magazine, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/11/magazine/why-are-more-american-teenagers-than-ever-suffering-from-severe-anxiety.html. Accessed 19 April 2018.

PERMA model image: Nina Collins

Share this project
COMMENTS: 14
  1. April 27, 2018 by Avery.Courts

    I thought that your page was so interesting! I loved how your approach was filled with scientific evidence and facts! I also really liked how you gave everyone specific steps on how to become happier! I’ll definitely use these steps myself in the future!

  2. April 27, 2018 by Alex Treisman

    I loved reading your presentation! Being a teenager, it felt very relevant to my own life. I definitely struggle with stress in my life, as I’m sure many other teenagers do too, so hearing your tips backed by scientific data was really helpful. I will definitely remember this project and look back at it when I’m in need of some tips to reduce stress!

  3. April 28, 2018 by susan

    hi hannah — so appreciate the thinking you are doing about what matters most: how we lead healthy, positive lives. seems like when we operate from a position of feeling overwhelmed and stressed out, all the things that are worrying us are compromised, and we find little pleasure in or enthusiasm for what is consuming most of our time. am now wondering how you take this info and use it to catalyze change…? how might your info and the practices you identify find a life at your school? with the people in your life? sounds like they have influenced yours — love that! hoping you will continue on and also find ways to share all you now know with others, too.

    • April 30, 2018 by Hannah Yoken

      Hi! Thank you so much for your comment. I believe I mentioned this early on my page, but this is meant to be delivered as a workshop to students at my school, with all the information that will be provided in the workshop noted above.

  4. April 29, 2018 by Sophie Staeger

    Hi! I love the Ted talk that you attached! In your research did you find any biological or psychological reasons why humans associate value and success with happiness (rather than gratefulness)? What is your opinion on this?

  5. April 29, 2018 by Annika.Singh

    I really enjoyed reading your presentation! I liked how you included the PERMA model and broke down each step. Also, the Ted Talk you included. I feel stressed constantly and I think the tips you included will really help. You should share this with people at your school. I’m sure it will be really helpful!

  6. April 30, 2018 by Winter.Murray

    Your project outlines an issue that so many teenagers can relate to and deal with every day. The PERMA model sounds like such a great way to cope with the stress that comes with being a student. I love that you outline actual tips that can be easily implemented to help deal with this tension!

  7. April 30, 2018 by Julia Leet

    Hi Catlin! I really love how you focused on gratitude as a way to reduce anxiety. I have found that this is super helpful in my own life, and you have inspired to me to attempt to start a gratitude journal for my last summer before college:) Great work!

  8. May 02, 2018 by Moshe Heletz

    Gratitude is good, as well as happiness. Sometimes I wish I had more happiness in my life, however, I find it tough to be grateful when I feel that I am being cheated; to be specific, being placed into a system designed to fail you. However, I must admit that I am grateful for my family, achievements, and social status, especially since I know that not everyone has had the opportunities that I have.

  9. May 03, 2018 by Sofia

    Hi Hannah,

    I really liked the use of the Perma model! I think that you did a great job presenting and explaining it. Also, I have to compliment you on your bibliography because it is super well done!

  10. May 03, 2018 by Nagy Nashed

    I love learning about the PERMA model. It is a tool I think I will incorporate into my life in order to be more grateful and have more happiness.

    • May 03, 2018 by Jerome Nashed

      I love learning about the PERMA model. It is a tool I think I will incorporate into my life in order to be more grateful and have more happiness.

  11. May 04, 2018 by Grant Komin

    HI Hannah,

    I really enjoyed reading your presentation on stress and happiness. I live in an area where stress is high (I talk about this in my own project, The Toxicity of Location: Teen Suicide in Silicon Valley, if you feel like reading that and I think I can attach a URL below) and had I found this information, this would have been great to put into my own! I had never heard of the PERMA model and I am now encouraged to put that into use for myself.

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