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When a friend mentioned something about a character strengths survey a few years ago, I was intrigued. I immediately googled it and was introduced to the world of Positive Psychology. I had taken a couple of psych classes decades ago, but I had never pursued it as a field of study. What I didn’t realize was how much this ontological coaching business is based on psychology, especially humanistic and positive psychology. 

Of course I had to find training to learn more. And, I did. I finished a 5 course foundations of positive psych program offered by the University of Pennsylvania, the birthplace of positive psychology, via Coursera.

What is Positive Psychology?

Up until the end of the 20th century, psychology had focused mostly on what’s wrong with people, though some prior psychologists (notably Abraham Maslow), were interested in exploring human potential. In 1998 Martin Seligman, who was elected the chair of American Psychological Association, coined the term Positive Psychology and declared that this branch of psychology will focus on what is right with people. (Dr. Seligman himself was one of the teachers in my program!)


There are 5 dimensions of human well-being, according to positive psychology. Positive thinking (P), Engagement (E), Relationships (R), Meaning (M), and Accomplishment (A). PERMA!

This movement is criticized, rightfully, for leaving out health as one of those dimensions. But, we already know the role of health (physical and mental) in well-being. These other dimensions in PERMA had not been formally studied in this context and collectively. Now, there’s tons of research and many many books on these topics.

On my end, I have found that being mindful and practicing meditation have enabled me to recognize my thought patterns. When my inner critic starts acting up, I am able to switch that channel. I took stock in what brings me joy. Turns out writing, cooking/baking, learning are the activities that provide the greatest engagement (flow state) to me. I constantly focus on being present to enhance my relationships with friends and family. My new job as a life coach as well as my Wednesdays with my grandkids provide the greatest meaning in my life. My clients’ success, smiling faces as people eat one of my cakes are what accomplishment means for me these days.

I have written about accomplishment in a previous blog post. I will write more about the other dimensions soon.

What does PERMA mean to you? I’d love to hear from you.

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