Positive Psychology – Healthier Mind and Higher Productivity

Positive Psychology – Healthier Mind and Higher Productivity

By: Elizabeth Price

Positive psychology isn’t just the idea that being positive leads to a happier person. It has application merits, especially when applied to train and development as well as adult education. Often, I’ve been asked, “What do you want your career to look like?” I’ll be the first to admit that in the past I’ve often floundered on that question since my career path


Elizabeth Price

hasn’t been the most conventional. It wasn’t until I had a manager who took the time to actually chat about and reflect on my strengths and how to utilize them more effectively than I found clarity to that question. This use of encouragement, fostering optimism/hope, and positive reflection is core to positive psychology.

“Positive psychology is the scientific and applied approach to uncovering people’s strengths and promoting their positive functioning.” (Hugo Alberts)

Positive psychology, founded in 1998 by Martin Seligman, is essential “the scientific study of what makes life most worth living”(Christopher Peterson).  Seligman identified the PERMA model as the five elements needed to achieve positive psychology. PERMA stands for Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Achievement. Positive emotions are the ability to think optimistically about the past, present and future with an emphasis on focusing on the highs in life rather than the lows. Engagement is the identification and participation in activities that create require our full engagement in them and create “flow” (when a task causes you to feel as though time flew by while engaging in it). Relationships are the creation of strong and positive relationships with others which is core to our inherent nature as social creatures. Meaning is the identification and clarity of purpose for your choices and actions. Lastly, Achievement is all about creating and attaining goals that are created to achieve the four prior elements.


So how can we use this in the training and development field? We know that with adult learners’ motivations and the freedom of self-direction are key in their retention of material. Positive psychology and the PERMA model are completely built around self-exploration and motivational identification. The instructor, similar to Andragogy, is a facilitator for that self-discovery. Coaching an adult learner towards identifying and applying the PERMA model has proven to increase productivity and efficiency, foster creativity and innovation, and is infectious causing company and community-wide benefits. An instructor or coach can implement small changes in feedback to help encourage PERMA through positive and strength focused feedback on assignments, creating strength lists and goals based upon those, relations of topics to personal experiences/ reflection with open or group discussion, encourage gratitude journaling, and even adding short meditation or mindfulness activities to the session.

Additionally, many supporters of positive psychology recommend the instructor/coach/facilitator be active participants of the PERMA model in their own lives. Science has proven that positive psychology can lower rates/ occurrences of depression and anxiety. Which if we are being honest everyone could use a bit of these days.

Positive psychology may seem simple enough. However, it has scientifically proven benefits to not only the productivity of a student or client but also the overall mental health of that individual.

Questions for Discussion

Would you utilize positive psychology and the PERMA method in your instructional design or coaching? Why or why not?

Do you think positive psychology is a complete learning theory or rather a component of a more established theory such as Andragogy or Humanist Learning Theory?








  • Applying positive psychology to business coaching for improved performance, is a practice that I have been trained on and implemented for the better part of my career. Overall, as a concept, the more that performers identify their strengths, demonstrate those strengths in their work performance and mitigate any gaps, the more successful they are in the role and the more satisfied. It was helpful to think about applying the PERMA model of positive psychology to change management strategies such as the below:

    Positive emotions – feeling positively about the past, present and future
    •Change Management application: in communications, focus on similar changes that have gone well in the past to build on the success.

    Engagement – Identification and participate in activities that result in a “flow” state

    •Change Management application: involve impacted stakeholders in the planning of the change tapping into creativity

    Relationships – Establishing and maintaining positive working relationships that support our social need to connect with others

    •Change Management application: Establish a change network that connects leaders and employees impacted by the change

    Meaning – purpose in choices and actions

    •Change Management application: Link organizational goals to personal values and goals

    Achievement – creating and attaining goals

    •Change Management application: Recognize those that have adapted well to the change to reinforce behaviors

    Overall, I think the application of PERMA is a great approach to continue to take a learner focused approach in our work as OD professionals and continue to tailor the approach to the people that we serve in our various organizations.

  • Mary Zmorzynski Dojutrek

    With coaching, I would use the PERMA method in moderation. Although critical to build an employee’s self esteem and create a positive environment, honest, constructive feedback helps identify opportunity areas and increase self-awareness. Not knowing your weaknesses can be detrimental, hindering forward progress. Everyone stumbles and makes mistakes while learning, but they need to be provided the grace to recover and the encouragement to carry on–positive psychology. Is a balanced perspective the key– somewhere between rainbows and unicorns and gloom and doom?

  • Michael A. Sullivan

    I love positive psychology! Positive psychology is amazing!

    Would you utilize positive psychology and the PERMA method in your instructional design or coaching? Why or why not?

    Yes, I would use PERMA in an instructional design or coaching. Looking at Seligman & Csikzentmihalyi article it describes the purpose of positive psychology quite well by emphasizing that its goal is to help develop new cognitive and emotional tools, for fulfillment and well-being (2014). I think to truly enjoy any occupation we should find a something that gives us purpose. PERMA just gives us a way to communicate with others our desires and give frame work for us to develop a healthy lifestyle.

    Seligman, M. E., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2014). Positive psychology: An introduction (pp. 279-298). Springer Netherlands

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