The best encapsulation of positive psychology I've read is from Martin Seligman's book Flourish. He explains that when he first started writing about positive psychology he called it happiness. Almost twenty years later, however, he realizes that happiness isn't the right idea for what positive psychology advocates. Well being is.
This is also true of Zen. Zen isn't about enlightenment unless enlightenment is about well being. Zen isn't about mindfulness, meditation, and meaningfulness unless mindfulness, meditation, and meaningfulness are about well being. The contentment, acceptance, and peace we seek in Zen are all names for the well being we seek.
So what is well being?
Martin Seligman defines well being as emerging from five areas of our life. We have to pay attention to and develop each of the areas in order to “be well.” Sometimes we're strong in one area and weak in another area. That means we up play our strengths and we develop our weaknesses. Ideally, we want to find balance in our lives and this promotes well being.
Below is a brief explanation and expansion of each area.
Positive EmotionsThe four most important emotions to develop according to numerous scientific studies in the field of positive psychology and neuroscience are optimism, perseverance, gratitude, and forgiveness.
EngagementParticipate, get involved, do it, experience things, create memories, life is for the living.
RelationshipsLove and be loved, get social, foster family and friendship, have a support system, have someone you can call your soul friend, and like yourself as much as you like others.
MeaningfulnessCare about something or someone, make a difference, practice kindness and compassion, and develop “spirituality” whatever that means to you in religious or secular terms.
AccomplishmentSet goals, work toward the goals, and achieve and celebrate goals, remembering that the process is more important the the product. Well being is the journey, not the destination. That's not just a cute cliché with a picture of a kitten walking down a path. It's scientific proof: people are happier or “more in a state of well being” for longer and deeper when they are aware of working toward the goal rather than when they actually achieve the goal.
An easy way to remember the five areas of well being is through the acronym PERMA. I have this as a reminder on a piece of paper in my wallet and on a giant piece of butcher block paper in my classroom. I reflect upon the five areas often and ask myself how I can increase each of them to enhance the well being in my life. I invite you to do the same.