PERMA(nent) Smile

Last month I attended Dr. Martin Seligman’s public lecture in Melbourne.

Seligman is known as the founding father of Positive Psychology
not to be confused with self-helpish positive thinking.
I recall seeing his name in textbooks over the years as one
who coined the phrase “learned helplessness”
and later focused his research on “optimism” and “authentic happiness.”

I couldn’t ask him to sign my copy 
of his book Flourish (the downside of
reading via Kindle)…but I did get a photo 🙂

Yes…I seem to have a permanent smile these days 🙂

Not just because I live in Australia (…though that probably has a lot to do with it) – but I consider myself a cup-is-half-full optimist.
Even if the cup really is half empty, I would likely search for
a solution to make the cup runneth-over.

Seligman explained that he began his studies as a pessimist, and that he believed “only pessimists could do good work on optimism.”
He got a laugh, and it made me think of my ‘Pollyanna worldview.’
My optimistic outlook may be Pollyannaish but I don’t think I am too naïve.

I am well aware and not desensitized to the
worldly news of unjust and devastating circumstances.
Instead of becoming pessimistic and cynical, I often find comfort in the [cliché] mentality of ‘one person really can make a difference’
(…I recently used that saying in
January’s Charity Spotlight…)
or I can be found ‘looking for the good side of things in the bad.’

Seligman’s recent theoretical and research efforts centre on a theory “PERMA
that makes well-being not only measurable but teachable (visit his website for details):

P = Positive emotion: hunting for the good stuff

E = Engagement: doing what are you best at in the world

R = Relationships: making already good relationships better

M = Meaning: belonging to or serving something bigger than yourself

A = Accomplishment: gaining a sense of mastery and competence from achievement

Seligman argues against the Freuds and Woody Allens of the world who view
‘the good life’ as one devoid of suffering
– that the best we can strive for is to not be miserable.
To enhance well-being, we [obviously] do want to relieve suffering but we also
need to focus on increasing PERMA.

His approach is helping soldiers with post-traumatic stress and is encouraging positive education in schools.

Positive Psychology interventions and research results highlight the importance of gratitude (a popular topic these days) as part of evidence-based health-promoting practices aimed at enhancing well-being.

*To read about the application of gratitude lists, visit my friend Tania’s blog

So, I thought I would take this opportunity to list of some things I have been grateful for lately (in no particular order).

– the smell of jasmine flowers while walking in the morning

riding the train over the iconic Sydney bridge

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– young students in their school uniforms and hats at the train station

– thunderstorms (click here for a time lapse of the recent one)
and the spectacular sky that emerges after

Click picture to see more of Frank’s Instagram photos (

– opportunities to collaborate with researchers here and abroad

– hearing and seeing kookaburra birds for the first time

– the sight of flying fox bats flying into the city every evening at dusk

– coming upon a food and wine festival in the park

– taking a ferry trip from Sydney harbour to Manly beach

– having dinner with Frank at the beach

– street markets

– riding our bikes on biking paths

– staying in touch via technology

– seeing Aussie-made “Ugg” boots for sale and thinking of Alberta

– walking to the grocery store – in flip-flops

– seeing lemon trees

– buying fruit that says grown in Australia

– seeing pomegranates growing on trees while walking to the train station

– overhearing people say “fair dinkum” and other Aussie sayings

– experiencing +41 degree weather

– eating at outdoor cafes during my first visit to Melbourne

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– the smell of eucalyptus trees – still surprises and delights me daily

– hearing church bells from our balcony

– seeing our tiny solar patio lanterns move in the wind

data collection that includes afternoon tea with high school staff on a Friday

– the buzz of the cicadas in the trees (the loudest insects in the world)

– the sight of a flower shop in a train station

planning for my mom’s visit!

Click picture to link to my Charity Spotlight page for more information on the Taronga Zoo

Click picture to link to my Charity Spotlight page for more information on the Taronga Zoo

What’s on your gratitude list?

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