A Wish for Wellness & A Wish for a Good Life- A Letter to the New Year

December 21, 2017
In my work as a therapist and program manager for Jefferson Oaks Behavioral Health, I often work with clients on a task I developed called, “letter to the new year.” There are many parts of this exercise but the focus is on hope and a plan for a good life in the coming year. This time of year can be difficult for many, due to the increase in events, duties, expectations and of course the pressure to be happy during the holidays. It is also a time when we make the annual New Year’s resolution which often seems to involve throwing out something rather than bringing something in. In this coming year, I want to bring something in…… the concept of PERMA- The theory of Well-Being, developed by Dr. Martin Seligman. PERMA’s roots are in positive psychology and PERMA (Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment) is the building block for “flourishing.”

Positive Emotion: Components of this include increasing positive emotions about the past by cultivating gratitude and forgiveness, savoring physical pleasures and mindfulness in the present and building hope and optimism in the future.

Engagement: Engagement is a experience that involves utilizing high levels of our skills and strengths to focus on a particular task , e.g., playing a musical instrument, cooking, working hard physically or mentally, feeling deeply connected with a friend/family etc. Basically, the activity is its own reward and we do it for the experience itself not for a reward. Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi coined this experience, “flow.” Flow is experienced when we are deeply absorbed, time slows, self awareness fades and we are in pursuit of a goal. Think of a time when you were so absorbed in the creating or observing of something and all ceased to be but that moment. I am reminded of painting when I think of flow. The activity is pleasurable for me, my senses are engaged and I am completely present in the moment. Afterwards, I feel peaceful, accomplished and determined to return to the unfinished piece.

Relationships: Research shows that doing acts of kindness for others increases well-being. Meaningful and fulfilling relationships that provide a feeling of belonging and bring joy, laughter and comfort are essential to human existence. The experience of well-being is echoed through healthy, stable relationships. Developing strong connections with others increases our capacity for love, compassion, kindness, empathy and a sense of being part of a team.

Group therapy at Jefferson Oaks assists in restoring a feeling of connection to others. We encourage our patients to engage in outside activities that strengthen existing bonds with family and friends and to embrace experiences that enable new and meaningful relationships.

Meaning: A sense of purpose and meaning often comes from feeling that we belong to something and serve something greater than ourselves. Various groups or institutions can provide a sense of meaning. Work, politics, family, religion and social causes, are some examples of how we seek to find more purpose and meaning in our lives. Accomplishment: Pursuing achievement in relationships, workplace, and personal interests for their own sake even when the pursuit does not always lead to positive emotion, meaning or relationships.

The roots of PERMA and positive psychology are linked to humanistic psychology and theorists like Rogers and Maslow who focused on the belief in the innate goodness of others and coined the term, self actualization which places emphasis on the potential of the person. The concept of the good life and the phrase itself, actually dates back to Plato and Socrates. The pursuit of well-being, the good life and happiness is familiar and universal to us all. Utilizing the concepts of PERMA can assist us in developing and maintaining a more positive perspective, which promotes internal wellness and activates change. (Adapted from the Positive Psychology Center, University of Pennsylvania, ppc.sas.upenn.edu)

Here at Jefferson Oaks Behavioral Health, we wish you wellness, peace and a good life in the coming year…………………….