Wellbeing is a competitive advantage you MUST have… and soon you’ll need it just to keep up with the competition!

 In 2016 Professor Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania, one of the world’s leading psychologists and the renowned founder of positive psychology, gave a speech in London. He was updating practitioners on the many ways in which positive psychology is roaring ahead across the world. Positive psychology is improving the wellbeing, health and achievements of millions of people.

Seligman coined the terms positive psychology to describe what humans seek when they’re not being coerced or threatened. The main thrust of positive psychology is wellbeing, and he defines it as PERMA which stands for:

Positive emotion: happiness, joy, rapture and contentment

Engagement: ‘being at one with the music’, total immersion in what’s occupying your attention

Relationships: loving and being loved, healthy relationships in all facets of our lives

Meaning: a higher purpose to life, serving something bigger than ourselves

Accomplishment: achievement and growth

Here are some recent achievements of positive psychology:

  • Thousands of schools worldwide are now implementing wellbeing focused curricula such as the Penn Resilience Programme. The results show positive psychology in schools is reducing depression, increasing wellbeing, and improving grades.
  • Since 2009, when 30,000 drill sergeants in the US Army were trained in teaching PERMA, results have been dramatic. Substance abuse, depression, post traumatic stress disorder, and panic symptoms amongst troops have all been halved.
  • PERMA turns out to be a major prevention factor in cardiovascular disease and death.
  • Ten PERMA based interventions have now been proven to lower depression and increase happiness. These results come from randomly assigned double blind clinical trials, the most exacting test.

According to the British Psychological Society, 19% of adults in the UK experience depression, half of them combined with anxiety. The Mental Health Foundation says that 10% of us will experience depression in our lifetimes. But most chillingly, the National Institute of Mental Health says 6.6% of people will experience a major debilitating depressive episode in any given year.

We’ve known for a long time that depression reduces effectiveness in the workplace, increases sickness absence, destroys motivation, drives learned helplessness and limits creativity. PERMA based interventions are now are proven to eliminate these negative effects. Here are two of the ten – I'll let you have three more next time.

1. Active Constructive Responding

How do you react when you arrive home tired from work and your spouse announces that they have been promoted? It turns out that of the four types of responses only one builds long term resilience in the relationship:

a. The passive constructive ’Congrats, you deserve it’ as you head into the kitchen won't add anything – too brief and off hand

b. Passively destructive comments like, ‘Great, what's for dinner?’ turn out to be damaging

c. The negative impact of the actively destructive, ‘Do you realise how much tax we’ll have to pay now!?’ is self-evident

d. But the active constructive response that takes time and shows genuine interest adds massively to the quality of the relationship, ‘Wow! Where were you when he told you? What exactly did he say? How did you feel? Have you thought about how you’re going to get started? Come on sit down over here, tell me everything…’ Prof Seligman shared the data on three areas with this one:  love increases, sex increases, and marriage longevity increases.

2. Three Good Things

This is writing down three good things that happened today at the end of every day. In its most powerful form it includes why the day was good, how you contributed to that, and how it made you feel, then going to sleep visualising your favourite.

The evidence is that this exercise both lowers depression and increases wellbeing.  Furthermore the findings are that Three Good Things is addictive (in a good way) so people tend to keep it up – because they enjoy it.

Increasing wellbeing / PERMA has a material positive impact on an organisation’s success. It does this by increasing effectiveness, reducing sickness absence, increasing motivation and engagement, driving resilience, improving relationships and influencing skills, and boosting creativity and solution skills.

PERMA is out there, and your business and executive competitors will hear about it soon if they haven’t already. So make sure you’re one of the early adopters because all the evidence points to leaders and businesses who pick up on this quickly being real winners.

Inspirational business psychologist Graham Keen is CEO of New Impetus International Ltd, an independent company with bases in Cheshire, Yorkshire, Lancashire and Copenhagen. He founded the company in 2000 to create and deliver services solidly based on hard evidence. The firm now works with 140 clients worldwide, including many household names, mostly in the UK, Continental Europe, and a bit in the USA and Middle East.

An Oxford University Engineering Science graduate, Graham trained in positive psychology with Prof Martin Seligman in 2003, which taken together with his earlier experience as plc CFO and corporate finance practitioner, brings a unique view of business.

Graham is an energising tutor and speaker. He is warm but direct, passionate, and occasionally hilarious. He has the knack of telling surprising and uncomfortable truths in a way that inspires acceptance and ignites action.

He has a 20 year track record of winning even reluctant people’s buy-in to change, and consistently improving patterns of organisational behaviour.


© Graham Keen 2012-2018