Can Happiness Really Be Taught?

Genuine happiness was not given much thought when I was training to become a psychiatrist. The goal of treatment was to get a patient “back to baseline,” i.e. not clinically sick. Today, thanks to the burgeoning field of positive psychology, we have expanded how we think about not just mental illness but also mental health and happiness. Research shows there are things we can do to build more fulfilling, creative, meaningful, and, yes, happier lives. For example, Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman’s ground-breaking theory of well-being, known as PERMA, holds that the following five elements are essential to happiness.

  1. (P)ositive Emotion: By increasing daily positive emotions such as love, joy, and gratitude in your life, you create an upward spiral of positivity and wellness.

2. (E)ngagement: Spend more time “in flow.” People who regularly fully immerse themselves in an activity—be it intellectually, physically, or professionally— report greater well-being.

3. Positive (R)elationships: Human connection is essential for happiness. Show up for your friends, make an effort with your partner, hold the door for a stranger even when you least feel like it. Social bonds are good for your physical and mental health and protect against stressors.

4. (M)eaning: This comes from serving something larger than yourself. It may be a religion, a cause, or an overriding sense of purpose.

5. (A)ccomplishment/Achievement: Mastering a skill and achieving a goal is life-enhancing and contributes to flourishing. If you want to increase your happiness, maximize the PERMA in your life.

The original article appeared in Marie Claire magazine.

I wish you all the best,

Dr. Samantha Boardman