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.
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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!
“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