Increase Happiness by Incorporating the 5 Pillars

happiness improve mood uplifting uplift feel good happy joy anxiety self care self esteem selfcare selflove selfesteem

Last week we introduced Dr. Martin Seligman’s PERMA Model, or the 5 pillars of happiness. If you need a refresher, go ahead and click here to check it out. Once you’re ready, come back here to learn practical strategies to uphold these happiness pillars into your everyday life. Focus on small, practical changes that you can realistically keep up with.

Focusing on Positive Emotions

There are two aspects to putting this into practice: finding positivity and challenging your negative thoughts. 

  1. Find positivity and optimism in your everyday life. When you finish a task, stop and reflect on your accomplishment before moving on. Do this for just 10-30 seconds, if it’s a big task try to do it for longer! Tell yourself “good job” after replying to the work emails you’re catching up on. Take a moment to appreciate that you left your house in time to not have to rush to an appointment. Take a walk around the block after finishing a big task. Take a moment to congratulate yourself for putting on pants today, or taking a shower. We often dwell on the negatives in our life, but disregard the positives. Give your accomplishments and successes the space they deserve! Things won’t always go smoothly, there will be obstacles you face and mistakes you make. When these things happen, try to look on the bright side. As cliché as it sounds, looking for good in the bad will promote positive thinking and optimism. 
  2. Things aren’t all bad or all good. But if you challenge your negative thoughts with positive ones, you are likely to fall in a “happy place” that still reflects reality. When you have a negative, unhelpful, or overwhelming thought, challenge it. Start with the worst case (that’s probably pretty close to the thought you already had). Then think about the best case scenario. Finally, come to a more realistic answer.
    • Ex: Your boss says they want to have a meeting with you. You are a little behind on work. These past couple weeks have just been hard. Worst case: You’re going to get fired. Best case: you’re going to get a promotion. A balanced middle: Your boss has noticed your drop in work. They might be checking in with you, you’re usually on top of your work (which is a success!). 

Putting Engagement into Practice:

There are two parts here: finding the activity, and spending time engaged in your chosen activity. 

  1. Finding an activity – this can be difficult or daunting! Be sure to implement Positive Emotions while you are on your search. Even if you weren’t fully engaged in the activity you tried, praise yourself for trying. You are one step closer to finding an activity that is engaging for you. While trying out an activity, be fully present. That means no phones, no distractions. You can’t be engaged if you’re constantly stopping to do other things! Finally, don’t force it. The goal here is to find an activity that you easily enjoy. You don’t have to be “good” at your activity. Besides, like with all things, you will improve with practice.
  2. Engaging in your activity. First you need to make time for your activity. With the hecticness of life, it can be easy to forget to carve out some you time. Start by putting this activity on your calendar. Yes, I’m telling you to schedule fun and self-care. If it is on your schedule you are more likely to do it! Then, be fully present in your activity. This doesn’t need to be a solo activity, but put away all outside distractions. If you have distracting thoughts, acknowledge them, but let them leave your consciousness. That will get easier in time. 

How to Focus on Relationships:

Reach out. This can be easier said than done. Practice leads to improvements, and the more you practice reaching out and interacting with others, the more easily you will turn to others when you need support. Schedule out social time – putting it on your calendar will help make sure it happens. Whether you are going to spend time together in person or online, add social time to your routine. In person or through video is the best way to interact, then you can see the person and hear the person. Most of our communication is done through our body language, facial expressions, and tone. However if you aren’t feeling up to that, reaching out via phone call is a good back-up. Lastly turn to text messages. Text communication is not ideal, but is better than nothing; some days that might be all you feel up for. 

Some other ideas to get your social ball rolling:

  • Game nights with friends 
  • Tuesday “Happy Hour” with friends (tea, cocktails, whatever you decide!)
  • Join a support group
  • Online or in person classes ( has tons of free or cheap classes for individuals or couples)
  • Sunday calls to your family
  • Go for a walk with a friend
  • Cook together
  • Do an engaging activity

Additionally, when someone reaches out, do your best to respond. If you never respond to texts, calls, or invitations, they’ll likely stop trying. This doesn’t mean to overextend yourself or violate your boundaries. If someone invites you over to cook but you are not comfortable with in person interactions at this time – just let them know. If you can, offer an alternative (like cooking “together” through a video chat in your respective homes). 

Putting Meaning into Practice

Find the things that give you meaning in your life and work to be putting your energy there. Take time for introspection. Examine yourself. What do you value? To get an idea of your values, you can do a value sort like this one online. I prefer to print out the cards (you can find them here) and keep them in the order or take a photo when I have them laid out. That way I can examine how my values change over time. Once you have identified your top values (aim for a top 5), think about how you can incorporate these values into your life. For example, if you value justice you can make a point to speak up about unequal treatment at work, or write to your local or state representative. If you value family you can implement a “family date day” weekly or biweekly.

Remember to cater your practice to you, and be realistic. Keep in mind your time, responsibilities, and finances. These are small things to try to incorporate into your daily life. If your idea for how to uphold your value is too grand or complicated, you are less likely to do it. This will likely bring your mood down, which is the opposite of this goal! Additionally, channel your positive thoughts and explore what actions you are already doing that reflect these values. 

Cultivating and Honoring Accomplishments:

You are already accomplishing a lot in your life! Some days an accomplishment is going to be showering or cooking. While other days it might be finishing or continuing to work on a big project at work or for school. Take time to honour the accomplishments you are already achieving. What meaning do those accomplishments have for you (upholding values, self-care, reflecting personality traits you appreciate, etc.)? Take a moment, right now, to reflect on 1 accomplishment of your day so far. Mine is not reaching for a second cup of coffee, upholding a value of moderation and of mindful consumption. 

Creating new goals will also feed into the accomplishment category. If you need guidance in creating a new goal, start by making a SMART goal. This means specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. For example, if your goal is to spend more time with friends, a SMART goal might be to reach out to 3 friends via phone call by the end of the week (Sunday evening). If you have a broad goal of something like “be happier” – try to identify an action step that will apply to this goal. For example, engage in 1 self-care activity for a minimum of 15 minutes every day this week – and then include for yourself some self-care activity ideas to make it easier when the time comes to implement one! If you do create a larger goal, break it into smaller goals, or check points, to celebrate along the way. 



Article by Sarah O’Leary, AMFT#123449 (supervised by Jennine Estes, LMFT#47653)

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Sarah O'Leary

I am captivated most by the importance of relationships and emotions and how they impact our everyday lives. Both relationships and our emotions help shape who we are as a person. "Relationship" doesn't just mean partner, but rather connections of all kinds. This means everything from strangers, to friends, to partners, and most importantly, the relationship you have with yourself. Emotions are what underlies our thoughts and behaviors, they are the key to understanding ourselves.