The 5 Pillars of Wellbeing

happy positive girl

Even small shifts in an employee’s wellbeing can produce a huge impact on productivity, according to an analysis by Gallup. The pollster’s analysis has revealed that poor wellbeing is strongly correlated with both “presenteeism” and “absenteeism”, and accounts for up to 600 “unhealthy days” per 1,000 workers every month. But, wellbeing is a nebulous term; a factor that makes it such an inviting, challenging topic for researchers seeking to identify both its components and the paths to achieving it. One notable researcher, Martin Seligman, whose contribution to the field of psychology is pretty outstanding, has come up with a categorical model for wellbeing. Here it is.

Seligman’s PERMA model for wellbeing

PERMA is Seligman’s acronym for his five essential components of wellbeing: positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment. To improve your wellbeing, seek to prioritise each element in your life. Here’s a brief description of each:

Positive emotions

Remember how you felt when you achieved your hard-fought-for promotion? Or when you were told by your client that he would renew his contract with you for another year? The positive emotions, events such as these generate, are essential to wellbeing, according to Seligman, so we should seek to emphasise and ‘hold on’ to them in our lives. It’s also important that we pursue those circumstances that we know will generate positive emotions in our lives, for example family and friendships. And when at work, it’s vital that we are making the most of our strengths, as this is key to experiencing positive emotions – if you’re unsure of your strengths, start by doing a personal SWOT analysis.


Engagement is a hardy perennial on most career blogs, guaranteed to attract more than the average ‘shares’ on social media. It’s the Holy Grail for most companies who rightly believe that engagement of their employees will result in greater productivity. Why? Because when we’re engaged, we’re fully absorbed by and enthusiastic about the task we’re dealing with; in this state, we’re more likely to behave in ways that support our company’s interests. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and Kingston Business School suggest that there are three aspects to employee engagement:

  • Intellectual engagement
  • Affective engagement
  • Social engagement

If your work provides all three dimensions, you are likely to feel engaged; if it doesn’t, perhaps you could actively pursue projects that will provide these elements.


Humans are social beings, and positive relationships are essential to our wellbeing. Study after study has shown that those with strong social networks are more confident – and happier, too. Given that a majority of our time is spent at work, it’s particularly important to cultivate strong relationships in the workplace, too. However, relationships take time and effort, so it’s important to factor in regular time to cultivate them.


Meaning is derived from serving a cause bigger than ourselves; for example, a deity or a cause that provides support or contributions to humanity in some way. Studies have shown that when work is connected with a meaningful purpose, engagement increases. Do you perceive meaning in your work? If not, here are some suggestions to help you find meaning at work.


Most of us strive to achieve, whether that’s mastering a skill or recording a win at an event. Our accomplishments give us great satisfaction, and increased confidence and self-esteem, all of which contribute to our sense of wellbeing. Begin by identifying what you’d most like to achieve then mark off the milestones along the path to your goal. Each time you achieve a milestone, recognise this accomplishment, making sure you savour the positive emotions that emanate from it.

PERMA provides an accessible framework for understanding what are – in fact – complex and interrelated theories of wellbeing. Certainly, the elements are more ‘matrixed’ than they are categorical: each can be related to the other, as you have already seen. Still, it is a useful model that gives us pointers to improving our wellbeing and for that, it is a welcome addition to the wellbeing arsenal.

Harvard Business Review
Mind Tools
The Pursuit of Happiness