What is the PERMAH model of wellbeing?

The PERMAH six pillars of wellbeing is a framework that draws on positive psychology and practical actions to assist in measuring psychological wellbeing.

Developed initially as a five-pillar model by leading researcher and psychologist Martin Seligman, the framework has since been adapted to a six-pillar model by researchers, including Dr Peggy Kern.           

What are the 6 pillars of PERMAH? 


P – Positive Emotions – the presence of heartfelt positivity

E – Engagement – the development of our strengths

R – Relationships – the opportunity for genuine connection

M – Meaning – the chance to make a positive difference

A – Accomplishment – The ability to achieve things that matter, and

H – Health – Moving, sleeping and eating well.

It can be helpful to think of these wellbeing factors like the dashboard that allows a pilot to fly a plane, there is no one dial alone that indicates how an airplane is functioning. Dr Seligman suggests that rather than focusing on a single dial such as the fuel gauge or the airspeed indicator, it is the interaction between them all that provides the information needed.

Michelle McQuaid says, “To thrive, you need to cultivate each of the PERMAH factors. But how much you’ll need of each will vary depending on the type of person you are, the situations you’re in, and the outcomes you want to achieve.”

As you read through the pillars, pay attention to what resonates with you and where your interest lies.

Positive Emotions

Barbara Fredrickson summed up positivity as so:

“Positivity is a choice we need to make, again and again, day after day.”

As humans, we have a natural negativity bias. According to researchers at Positive Psychology we:

“…attend to, learn from and use negative information far more than positive information”. 

This doesn’t mean we should try to avoid negative emotions or eliminate them (which is impossible to do!). Thriving is not the absence of negative emotions but how we acknowledge, process and respond to them.

Researchers recognised that there is an imbalance in how we think about positive and negative events. Negative events tend to cause a quicker and more dominant response than non-negative events. The result being, we tend to remember and think more about insults over compliments, we dwell on unpleasant incidents rather than pleasant ones, and focus our attention more quickly on negative rather than positive information.

Intentionally focusing on Positive Emotions is initially about levelling out the playing field and then sparking an abundance of positivity. But first, we must balance out the negative!


Engagement is about being in the zone. It’s about our strengths and the feelings we get when we fully show up in the things we do—the idea of being in the flow.

Strengths are our natural superpowers. Using and building them enables us to increase our engagement and fulfilment. Strengths are who we are when we’re at our best.

Flow relates to our mental state when completing tasks. When the challenge and our skills are evenly matched, and we’re fully immersed in the activity, we get an energised focus and a deep sense of enjoyment. We become absorbed, and time passes quickly. Can you recall a moment when you were in flow—in or out of work?


This pillar is about relationships and connection. About making time to genuinely connect with others, expressing and experiencing gratitude, showing kindness, being compassionate and savouring feelings of warmth and trust.

As humans, we’re genetically wired for relationships. We’re social creatures designed to be with others. As Harvard psychiatrist George Vaillant says: “our relationships with other people matter, and matter more than anything else in the world”. Vaillant was one of the original directors of the longest-running studies of adult life, the Harvard Study of Adult Development, which has been ongoing since 1938. Results suggest the quality of relationships at age 50 is one of the better indicators of a healthy life at aged 90. 

Asking for and giving help are core elements of relationships. In fact, research shows that strategic asking for help makes people appear more productive, can reduce burnout, establish trust and shows vulnerability which breeds deeper relationships between people.

As practitioners, though, we need to balance giving and taking – we need to be able to give AND ask for help too. We often underestimate people’s willingness to help, so we don’t ask and go it alone.


Studies have found that people who report having a sense of meaning are more satisfied, less depressed and anxious, and more committed to their families, careers, organisations, and community. That sounds pretty powerful to me.

Meaning is about knowing what you do each day positively impacts others and provides a sense of connection to something larger than yourself.

For many practitioners, helpers like yourselves, our meaning comes through our work, so it is sometimes not about finding more meaning but better balance. There is also the concept of passion fatigue or obsessive passion—where it sometimes feels impossible to switch off. Our sense of identity, worth and value in the world is so intrinsically tied to our work it drives our passion.

The goal we’re striving for is Harmonious Passion. Where we still get a sense of aliveness, pride and value, but we maintain control over how we engage in it. We can switch off, lead a harmonious life, and find other avenues of passion and meaning. The key is to ensure we have more than one thing that gives us passion and purpose in our life. We need boundaries to create space for our other interests.


Achieving success is only a small part of accomplishment. The effort involved in striving for new things, making mistakes and falling short, whilst disappointing, is all part of life’s way of telling you there’s something important that requires your attention.

We often talk about resilience. Resilience is the ability to return to an original form, to respond or recover reasonably. What’s less talked about is grit. Grit is the ability to keep getting back up, tackle another day, and stick with the challenges. To fall seven times and get up eight.

The idea of grit is, as Professor Duckworth says: “…living life like a marathon, not a sprint”. It’s core to life success. Enthusiasm is common, but endurance is rare!

Grit is a learned skill; you can develop it. It’s a future-oriented concept about a long-term commitment to a goal. It’s about committing to something meaningful to you and cultivating a growth learning mindset. When it comes to challenges, grit is applying the “I can’t do it YET” mindset to the task. It’s about continual, deliberate practice. Exceeding your current levels of skill and grit also requires support and reliance on others to keep you accountable and showing up.

But there is such a thing as STUPID GRIT. Sticking with something and ignoring the warning signs. This can risk your health, relationships and work.

Accomplishment requires self-compassion. During times of struggle, choose to talk to yourself like a wise and kind mentor. What would they say in times of challenge and disappointment? How can you show yourself the same compassion to instil hope and inspire you to keep striving towards accomplishment?


What we eat, how we move and how well we sleep are often the cornerstones of well-being. Our physical health determines our energy level to care for our well-being.

Taking the time to recover is a lesser focused element of health. Our body needs regular and frequent periods of recovery. Obviously, sleep is a core element of this. Sleep isn’t optional. Losing four hours of sleep is equivalent to drinking a six-pack of beer. Losing 90 minutes of sleep can reduce daytime alertness by a third.

But we need more than just sleep. We do our best work at a given time, for a limited time, and then we need to rest and recover. Our body needs us to spend 42% of the time resting. This equates to ten hours a day, but you don’t have to do that all in one day. Rest occurs when we stop using one part of us, so it has time to repair itself. During rest, our brain processes massive amounts of information and is repairing.

Sleep is core, but we can recover through other activities. Through soothing conversations with loved ones, people who make you feel safe and supported. We can rest our brain through physical activities and joyful movement, through creative expression, where different parts of our brain are allowed to wander.


Drawn from teachings from the Certificate in Creating Wellbeing – Michelle McQuade.