Few individuals have shaped the profession of positive psychology, and with it, the field of professional coaching, as much as psychologist, educator, and author Martin E.P. Seligman. In recent years, he has focused much of his work and writing on the concept of “flourishing” or “well-being theory.” That’s good news for us as coaches, because that’s exactly what we do—we help people flourish.
According to Seligman, well-being, or flourishing, has five measurable elements —positive emotion, engagement, positive relationships, meaning, and accomplishment. (PERMA).
The Elements of Well-Being: PERMA
Let’s take a closer look at each of these, starting with positive emotion.
When working with clients, it’s important to understand that positive emotions are subjective. What brings one person joy might elicit feelings of anxiety or distress in someone else.
We can help clients tap into positive emotions by helping them identify what energizes them and minimize the people, places, and activities that drain them. Also, listen for what feeds their soul, what they find life-giving. Sometimes life’s simplest pleasures, such as watching a beautiful sunset, spending time with others, or reading a good book that bring us deep joy.
Engagement is another subjective element of well-being. Many people describe losing track of time or being “in the flow” when they are doing something they love. When clients use phrases like these, it’s a good indicator they are engaged in what they are doing. Engaged clients are involved in all aspects of life. Whether it’s spending time with family or participating in their favorite hobby, an engaged client actively pursues life.
We were created for relationship — with God and with others. Any coaching around the issue of well-being must address relationships, especially how to cultivate and maintain healthy relationships. People simply cannot flourish if they lack healthy relationships or their relationships with others are disordered.
Meaning can be defined as serving a larger purpose or mission than yourself. For the Christian, meaning is found in and through Jesus Christ. As Christian coaches, we can help our clients discover their life’s purpose, using powerful questions, assessments, and other coaching tools.
A good coach will also help clients find meaning and purpose in their suffering and trials. But be careful when coaching around suffering, as the client must be ready and willing to move forward by exploring difficult issues and the emotions that accompany them. As always, let the client set the agenda and pace.
Accomplishment focuses on achievement and success, which is different for each one of us. For some, it might mean a promotion at work. But for the Christian, success and achievement are measured by a biblical standard. In the movie, Chariots of Fire, the actor portraying Olympic runner Eric Liddell says, “God made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure.”
Help clients define what success means to them, and then help them create a plan to achieve it. Engage clients in a discovery process that helps them identify their life’s greatest joy and accomplishment.
As coaches, our goal is to help clients maximize their professional and personal potential, to flourish in every area of their lives. And by focusing on the five elements of well-being —positive emotion, engagement, positive relationships, meaning, and accomplishment — we can help them do just that.