PERMA: Positive Relationships


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A few months ago I asked several friends how they define happiness. More than one person’s response included meaningful, fulfilling relationships with partners, family, coworkers and friends. The individuals who responded thus understand that we are not meant to live this life alone. We want to be understood—to be validated—and to provide that same gift to others. We humans are social creatures. When we unite in a good cause we thrive.

Do you ever wonder how you can better connect with someone you know? Whether you consciously think this or not, ultimately this is a question all humans are asking.

Here are a few tips from the latest research:

Speak Kindly

The first is called the Critical Positivity Ratio, and is based on an intriguing question: can we mathematically calculate the ratio of positive to negative comments in order to deem a relationship healthy? The question was first addressed when John Gottman, a world famous researcher on marriage, questioned and studied dozens of couples. He was able to predict with over 90% accuracy whether these couples would divorce. One of the key factors in his prediction was counting the amount of positive to negative communications. Then an organizational psychologist named Marcial Losada took this question into the world of work. He observed several workplaces in business meetings and pinpointed exactly what level and kind of comments causes a business to be productive. Finally, Barbara Fredrickson, a positive psychologist, applied the idea to education, testing hundreds of college students. Want to know the results?

In marriage and at work, the critical positivity ratio is 5:1. At college, it’s 3:1. In general, if you have 3-6 more positive comments than negative ones, you will do very well.

Just in case you’re wondering, it is in fact possible to have too much positivity. By and large once the ratio hits 9:1, that’s when the positivity becomes counterfeit and thus counterproductive. That’s a rather high number, isn’t it?

For more information, including an informal test to find your personal daily ratio, visit

Celebrate Positive Events

The second tip is about “capitalization”, or responding well to the positive life events of others.

Shelley Gable, a forerunning researcher on this topic, categorizes receivers’ responses into four categories: active constructive, active destructive, passive constructive and passive destructive.  Picture this scenerio: a husband shares with his wife that he got a raise at work. Here are examples of each category of response:

Active constructive response: “That’s so great! I’m proud of you! How shall we celebrate?”

Active destructive response: “Are you sure you can handle that responsibility? Managing that money is just going to be another chore.”

Passive constructive response: “That’s nice,” stated without enthusiasm or eye contact.

Passive destructive response: “That’s not enough to pay the bills,” stated without enthusiasm or eye contact

Gable tested how each of these responses affected the relationship. Only an active constructive response was associated with statistically significant relationship well-being.

But what about when we confide in each other about what is going wrong? Doesn’t that enhance a relationship as well? The short answer is maybe. It depends on one’s gender, and the effects don’t seem to last as long. In a follow-up study, Gable and her colleagues studied how capitalization affects dating relationships in the long term when compared with negative event disclosures. They found that for men, sharing a negative event with their significant others had no effect on the relationship’s well being whatsoever, while positive event disclosures did. For women, both initially affected the state of the relationship, but when they interviewed the couples eight weeks later, the effects of sharing the negative event had disappeared, while the effects of capitalization stayed.

In short, sharing and responding well to good news is a powerful way to enhance a relationship. So try it out!

Here are two psychology journal articles on the topic:

Gable, S., Gonzaga, G., & Strachman, A. (2006). Will you be there for me when things go right? Supportive responses to positive event disclosures. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology, 91(5), 904-917.

Gable, S. L., Impett, E. A., Reis, H. T., & Asher, E. R. (2004). What Do You Do When Things Go Right? The Intrapersonal and Interpersonal Benefits of Sharing Positive Events. Journal Of Personality & Social Psychology, 87(2), 228-245.

Express Their Love Language

Gary Chapman, a Marriage and Family Therapist, has observed from decades of experience a pattern in how we express love. He has identified five categories. Here they are:

  1. Quality Time: Giving someone one’s undivided attention.
  2. Words of Affirmation: Using words to validate and lift.
  3. Acts of Service: Actions speak louder than words.
  4. Physical Touch: Touching someone in proportion to how one feels.
  5. Receiving Gifts: Offering visible and tangible symbols of love.

Most of us have felt loved one way or another in all of these five ways, but each of us has a primary love language. It is the way we most often demonstrate love and the way we most often like to receive it. This applies not only to romantic relationships but also our interactions with family, friends, coworkers and others.

There are dozens of books and articles on the topic. To discover your primary love language and tips on how to understand that of others, go to




PERMA: Engagement


At some point in your life, you’ve probably watched a river flow through a forest or meadow. Or maybe you’ve seen the tide of the ocean roll back and forth. Did you notice how effortlessly the law of gravity was at work?

Now, have you ever found yourself in the midst of an activity that you really enjoy and the hours seem like minutes? Maybe you’re reading an amazing book or playing a sport or musical instrument. Psychologists refer to this phenomenon as “flow”-that is, a state of deep absorption in an activity that is intrinsically enjoyable; in other words, to the person acting, the activity is worth doing for its own sake.

Engagement is a synonym for flow in a long term context. This is what teachers talk about when they see their students’ faces consistently light up or hands raised in class. “They’re engaged in the learning process.” It’s what company owners look for in employees: investment in the product, passion and commitment.   They say that if you love your job, you never work a day in your life. People who never “work” (in the drudgery sense of the word) are highly engaged in their job. They get lost in it and they love the work for its own sake.

Now what if there was a way to increase the level of flow or engagement and thus your motivation, into your work, school or everyday activities?

Let’s get real. Pick an area of your life where your motivation could use a kick in the pants. Is it your job? A class? A relationship? A hobby or skill? Check out this research and choose one concept that will help you experience more flow. Ready?

Mihalyi Czikszentmihalyi, an experimental psychologist, has published dozens of studies on engagement in various settings and has developed what he calls Flow Theory. The most important contributor to flow, he says, is to match the skills of the person with the challenge of the activity. If you make the activity too hard, they will be overwhelmed. If you make it too easy, they’ll be bored. Many people intuitively grasp this concept, but fail to maximize its use effectively in everyday life.

Say you have a dream to run a marathon. What is your skill level? If you try to run ten miles in one shot, will you get overwhelmed and not want to run again? If you run one mile a day, would you get bored with your goal? If you jog just beyond your running comfort zone—just enough to push yourself without burning out—you will stay engaged in the task.

Other contributors to flow may be less intuitive. John Steele and Clive Fullagar studied the connection between flow and four characteristics in the school lives of 137 college students and found all of the following to be statistically significant.  Think of that part of your life that needs a kickstart and ask yourself these questions:

  • Autonomy—How much freedom do you give yourself in the process and pace of the activity?
  • Role Clarity—Do you understand what is expected of you?
  • Feedback—Are you asking for and getting constructive advice on your progress?
  • Physical Health—Are you in good physical shape? Do you have enough energy?

Have you found a concept that might help you increase your flow? How can you put it into action?

Granted, there are some scenarios where some of these ideas may not help you. For example, perhaps your workplace has well established rules on your schedule and deadlines, so your autonomy is limited. In some cases, you may not be able to completely change things, but you can influence. Perhaps you didn’t get the feedback on your school paper that you needed. You can visit your professor and ask for additional thoughts. The ultimate rule of thumb is to focus on what you can control. Choose the concept which gives you the most power to make changes. And don’t forget to allow time for activities that naturally bring flow into your life.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to comment about what you learned and your action plan.

Want to know more? Check these out:

A TED Talk: Csikszentmihalyi: Flow, the secret to happiness

A Book: Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

A Peer Reviewed Study: “Facilitators and Outcomes of Student Engagement in a College Setting” by Steele, J. P., & Fullagar, C. J. (2009). Journal of Psychology, 143(1), 5-27.

PERMA: Positive Emotion


I have a question for you, and I challenge you to answer it in 10 seconds or less: How do you define happiness?

I’m willing to bet that your answer included some variant of “positive emotion”. And according to tradition, you’re right. The Miriam-Webster Dictionary defines happiness as “a feeling or state of well-being and contentment”.

Martin Seligman’s acronym PERMA seeks to expand that definition. Good feelings are one of only five areas of research. Let’s see what psychologists have discovered about this category.

Traditional emotion theorists believe that emotions narrow our action urges, whether positive or negative. Barbara Fredrickson, a pioneer researcher in the field of positive emotion, begs to differ. What she calls The Broaden-and-Build Theory states that positive emotions broaden individual’s momentary thought-action repertoires and build physical, social, intellectual, and psychological personal resources.

In other words, not only do positive emotions feel good in the present, but also increase the likelihood that one will feel good in the future. This theory has been tested repeatedly and so far is defying traditional theorists at every turn.

So what do we do to increase our positive emotions? So much, and there’s so little time! I’ll give you just one tip for now: try meditating.

Martin Seligman and others have been concerned with whether positive emotions really have a long term effect on happiness. There’s this theory called the hedonic treadmill effect. It claims that positive emotions cease once the novelty of an experience subsides. How do we combat that?

In 2009, Fredrickson and her colleagues tested the broaden-and-build theory in application to loving-kindness meditation (LKM). This meditation technique is designed to increase feelings of warmth and caring for the self and others. Fredrickson believed that this would also expand peoples’ resources

The meditator begins in a seated position with his eyes closed and focuses on his breath. He then directs his emotions toward warm and tender feelings in an open-hearted way, first to himself, then to an ever-widening circle of other people. 139 employees at a large software company put this to the test. About half of the participants were assigned to a loving-kindness meditation group, and the remaining to a control group. Those in the meditation group participated in six 60 minute group sessions and practiced daily LKM solo while guided by a CD. Each day they reported on their experience through an internet survey.

Researchers found that while LKM did not significantly influence any one emotion individually, collectively over time the practice produced powerfully significant results: positive emotions skyrocketed later in the training. The gradual time release factor seems to confirm that loving-kindness meditation has the power to defeat the hedonic treadmill effect. In fact, rather than subsiding, the relationship between the practice of LKM and the experience of positive emotions tripled over the course of nine weeks.

Want to try it? Here are some resources:

And if you’re interested in Barbara Fredrickson’s research, here are some good journal articles:

Fredrickson, B. L., & Branigan, C. (2005). Positive emotions broaden the scope of attention and thought‐action repertoires. Cognition & Emotion, 19(3), 313-332.

Fredrickson, B. L., Cohn, M. A., Coffey, K. A., Pek, J., & Finkel, S. M. (2008). Open hearts build lives: Positive emotions, induced through loving-kindness meditation, build consequential personal resources. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95(5), 1045-1062.

Fredrickson, B. L. & Losada, M. F. (2005). Positive Affect and the Complex Dynamics of Human Flourishing. American Psychologist, 60(7), 678-686.





A Scientific Study of Happiness


“Everyone, without exception, is searching for happiness.”

– Blaise Pascal


Have you ever heard someone truthfully say they don’t want to be happy? While sometimes our actions and feelings get in the way, when it comes to the core of existence, we humans all want one thing: complete and utter bliss.

Just one question…What does that even mean?

For almost one hundred years since the birth of psychology, its primary focus had been about relieving human suffering. If humans are a flower garden, psychological research gives us tips on pulling the weeds. While weed pulling is a vital part of tending a garden, it is not the entire concept, or even the point.

In 1991 a pioneering psychologist named Martin Seligman coined the term positive psychology. He and his colleagues have carved a new agenda for research and practice: the study of positive emotion, character and institutions and the nurturing of their growth. Here the other parts of garden tending are accounted for—planting, watering, and drinking in the sunlight.

Over the years, Martin Seligman has identified six categories of positive psychology for study. All these topics form one cohesive acronym: PERMA.

Here we find a comprehensive outline of what true happiness is, and it’s not just about pleasurable sentimentality. Check this acronym out:

  • Positive Emotion: good feelings
  • Engagement: complete absorption in one’s activities
  • Relationships: authentic connection to others
  • Meaning: purposeful existence
  • Achievement: a sense of accomplishment



Want to learn how to better cultivate your own happiness? I once devoted an entire semester of my college experience writing a research paper on positive psychology. I’m going to break it down for you. Stay tuned for further installments of a six part series devoted to each of these categories. Each blog is 700 words or less and has all the essential information. I’ll include exercises that will help you develop each kind of happiness and I’ll reference original sources if you want greater detail.

As Roy M. Goodman said, “Remember that happiness is a way of travel – not a destination.” I’m looking forward to taking this journey with you.

You Already Have a Name, Long Before You Go Out to Make a Name for Yourself


You know that saying, “I’m going to make a name for myself.” It came into my mind today when I was reading an article that featured several bloggers and their personal views on the same subject.

I was impressed by the article and thought, “Blogging can be a way to make a name for yourself out there.” I was imagining having tons of readers for my blog and my yet-to-be-published novels and what that would feel like. I wanted to make a name for myself.

Suddenly a deeper part of me burst out. “But I already have a name!”

My name is Jessi, and no amount of professional success could essentially change my identity.

Here is why.

Think about babies and the way their parents feel about them. They don’t have to accomplish anything or be little geniuses or set world records to be loved. The very fact that they exist makes them worth loving.

When you were born, I can almost guarantee that your parents thought you were the most beautiful little creature they had ever seen.

Actually you were a squashy, splotchy crying thing that couldn’t focus its eyes. It took you weeks to learn to roll over and months to start crawling.

But your parents loved you the entire time, even when you couldn’t do anything. And I bet they weren’t loving you for your future-impressiveness either.

What kind of mother says, “I’ll love her when she becomes the CEO of a Fortune 500 company” or “I’ll love him when he is signed onto an NFL team”? Your parents loved you before you could say, “Mama” or “Dada.” So they could not possibly have based their love on what you were capable of doing.

It just was.

That’s why the idea of gaining some kind of self worth from “making a name” for yourself is just silly. By virtue of living, you already have worth. Impressive achievements and public recognition can’t give you what you already have.

It’s already there.

I don’t want to imply that achievements are worthless. They’re not. You certainly grow from hard work, and it is nice to be admired. If you can prove to yourself that you are capable, that is even more valuable than proving it to anyone else.

But try to remember that making a name or not making a name is beside the point. You already have a name!

People are a Burden, but Being Alone is Even More Burdensome


Why does it hurt so much to be alone?

Being alone hurts. I don’t necessarily mean being physically alone, either. What hurts is not having people in your life, not having friends and family that you can count on. That’s what it REALLY means to be alone.

Why do we need people so much?

At a certain point in my life, I tried to convince myself that I didn’t need people. Or at least I thought that if I could rid myself of the need for others, I would be happier.

I got to that point my second year of college when friendships were just not happening for me no matter how hard I tried. The burden of not having people in my life was infinitely heavier and more horrible than any burden that having people would bring.

People are burdens, after all!

When you have people in your life, they weigh you down. You have to deal with their problems. Your life isn’t completely your own, and sometimes the people in your life will need more from you than they are able to give back.

I call it “getting in the trenches” when my friends or my husband or my sisters (I count quite a few women as my sisters, even if we’re not technically related, by the way.) are really counting on me to get them through something.

Getting in the trenches means staying up later than you want to or talking someone back from the brink of a personal disaster. It means asking the hard questions and waiting until you get the hard answers. It’s letting your heart fill up with their sorrow until you weep. It’s work and it’s painful sometimes.

So if people are such a burden, why would I say that having them in my life is LESS of a burden than being alone?

Because I have found that when I get in the trenches, my life starts to take on meaning. When I reach out beyond myself, I can forget myself a little and start healing.

We need people in our lives so that we can learn to see beyond our own tiny microcosms. The tiny world of just ME is crushingly small, but every time I love someone, it expands and takes on new dimensions I never could have imagined.

I’m glad I never got my wish to stop needing people—because I don’t think I could ever find happiness without them.

How amazing it is to look back at times when my friends have gotten into the trenches with me and done the hard work of pulling me back from the brink of my own disasters!

There’s nothing quite as sweet as having someone stand with you at a graveside or text you the exact words you’re searching for. To have someone laugh and cry with you—that is living!

We weren’t meant to do this life thing alone.

Are Your Trials Shaping You Into Something Beautiful?


The desert of Southern Utah is my paradise. The shifting, dramatic colors of the slickrock change from orange, to tan, to deepest red. Slot canyons and hidden nooks abound, and it’s thrilling to simply be at such a place.

I had the opportunity recently to spend three days on a houseboat with my family at Lake Powell (courtesy of my parents). My husband and I drove down from Idaho, and my mood rose with the heat the further south we traveled. (Since the AC doesn’t work consistently in our car, we most assuredly felt the heat!) As the landscape turned more forbidding, it became more amazing.

That first night on the lake, I was awake at 3 am while everyone else slept. I looked out over the smooth water and saw the reflection of the moon and millions of stars nestled within the soft silhouette of sandstone cliffs. The only sound other than that of breathing was the sound of fish jumping every few minutes.

I pondered.

That place, that hot and harsh part of the  country has always lured me in, even if my life circumstances have kept me away for years. I wondered how such a place could be beautiful and inviting when it is so hostile to life. Most of us couldn’t last more than a day or  two out there under the summer sun without water!

Why the appeal, then?

I realized that Southern Utah is beautiful precisely because of its harshness. Its beauty and brutality are inextricably linked.


All those cliffs and rocks used to be a solid layer of ancient stone buried in the ground under other layers of stone. Then the shifting earth forced it to the surface. I can’t pretend to totally understand the forces of geology that brought it up, but I do know that once it was there, the stone was exposed to a hot sun, relentless winds, and seasonal rains. These forces blasted that stone with an endless abuse that would change it forever.

Rivers would gouge out canyons, meandering deeper and deeper with the passing years. Tiny pieces of sentiment carried in the air would pound out fins and fissures and arches, creating whorls and crevices and gullies. Flash floods would tear up trees that had dared to put down roots in the shifting sands.

The entire landscape is one of desolation, devastation. We humans are reminded of our mortality when we venture there. Yet it is too soul-bolstering to stay away!

Maybe it’s because we each have to face devastating harhness in our own private landscapes. We too get washed out by personal flash floods and hammered constantly by what should be tiny difficulties—but which add up to relentless trials.

Debt. Loss. Illness. Pain. Loneliness. Regret. Fear of not being adequate.

I know all of these trials and more, and sometimes they seem too much to bear. But maybe I’ve been thinking of it all wrong.

I want to be Southern Utah! Let all the gouging, painful, horrible experiences of life shape me into a new form—a better me. Maybe you simply cannot become the beautiful person you were intended to be without the harsh contouring that comes from struggle.

We can never hold back the wind and rain or stop the glaring sun from baking the land, but perhaps we can get a little better at embracing the process that is turning us into something thrilling. I want to be the sort of person that bolsters other people’s souls.

What is Positive Psychology?

IMGP3560So at first a part of me balked at the idea that psychology could really have anything to say about happiness. It’s science, right? I figured that no one needs a person with a clip board to tell them what they need to do to be happy. Doesn’t being happy come from obvious things like having friends and making good choices and having beauty in the world?

Of course! And that is what is awesome about this movement known as Positive Psychology. It’s extremely practical, even obvious. And yet it’s useful and can help you figure out on the personal level what is lacking in your own life.

Forgive me for being a little academic here, but I want to provide a good, basic understanding of what Positive Psychology is so that I can refer to it in future posts. Consider what follows as a groundwork reference.

Positive Psychology has been called the science of happiness, and it’s the most empirically rigorous area of study ever on what people can do to increase their own happiness. More accurately, it’s the study of what happy people are doing that makes them happy.

So what is Positive Psychology?

It’s a branch of psychology that focuses away from what may be wrong with a person’s mind and instead examines what positive practices make life worth living. And the conclusions are not reached through anecdotal evidence but through actual scientific studies. So what have all those hours in the lab revealed?

  • People are happy when they are physically active
  • People are happy when they are connected spiritually
  • People are happy when they are engaged in meaningful relationships with others
  • People are happy when they are kind to and care for those around them
  • People are happy when they understand their own strengths and abilities
  • People are happy when their work puts them into a state of “flow” or deeply satisfying involvement

All of these areas have been tested and proven, and they simply make sense. As we revisit each of these areas in future postings, I want to explore what kinds of practices apply to each one.

To learn more, watch this video that explains the basics of Positive Psychology. You can also visit here, which is where I got most of my information.


Always Something to Try

It must be time to get started. I have run out of excuses, and I have too much to say. So, this is me…

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You should know right from the beginning that depression has always been a struggle for me. And I mean ALWAYS, even in elementary school. Sure, I was silly and studious, and by all accounts happy. But I was also sad and constantly aware of this heaviness of heart. I honestly can’t blame any particular life circumstance for it. In junior high school, I was forced to face the fact that depression was simply a part of my nature.

I tell you this so that you understand that my search for the best life is vitally important to me. In ninth grade as I lay staring at the ceiling with no desire to go to school or see my friends or even move, I knew this darkness would be with me like a second skin, and if I didn’t find ways to combat it, depression would keep me from ever doing anything.

My mom helped me to see that I could do something, that I could try antidepressants or try talking to someone about my feelings. I could turn to my faith and pray with my whole heart. She introduced this concept to me that I did have power. There was always something to try.

Now that I’m thirty years old and still struggling with my old second skin, I’m re-focusing on all that I can do to pursue happiness. I want to show you (and myself) that life is full of joy and light, and YES . . . hope.

So I work on taking care of myself, giving my body what it needs and engaging in the kinds of activities and habits that make good health possible. I keep on learning and reading about other people’s experiences and what the social scientists are saying so that I can cultivate all the happiness that is possible for me. And I keep as close as I can to my faith and my religion so that I can call upon a greater power to get me through the times when my own strength is not enough.

So let’s get started with this thing!

About All Things Real Happiness.

My name is Jessi, and I have noticed how negative the Internet has become. I’m bothered by the disrespectful and unproductive comments, the endless articles and videos and memes that capitalize on making fun of people, and the blatant bullying that goes on all the time. Many of us spend so much time on devices, soaking up this entire atmosphere that is geared toward negativity rather than genuine happiness.

I have something to say about happiness. Okay, so I actually have A LOT to say about happiness. I’m not the expert, or the guru, and I don’t have a PhD in Happiness Studies (if that’s a thing). But I DO have some life experience and quite a few opinions about what makes a life happy.

To find out all about happiness, I will research what the actual experts are saying and what ordinary people say about happiness in their lives. Since positive psychology, faith, personal stories, creativity, adventure, and physical health are all parts of happiness, I’m going to bring all of those things into an ongoing discussion. (I might even make some informal videos about some of my thoughts.) And I want to know what my readers think, too. I’ll use your comments and questions to fuel more posts—and I’ll give you credit by name for your contributions.

I want to create a space where you can come to read about what actually makes our lives happy. I’m not talking about any one person’s philosophy, and I’m not attempting to be the blog-version of a self-help book. Rather, I want to backlash against some of the ugly trends that have taken over the social media experience. Here we will not make fun of people’s “fails” or bully or judge each other because we don’t agree, and here we will not gloomily complain about the world.

I know as well as you do that the world has A LOT of evil in it, and it has hurt me just as it hurts you. Of course we can’t get away from talking about those things, but let’s assume for the moment that finding happiness is the major purpose of living, and let us keep our focus on what is positive and hopeful in the world. Here at All Things Real Happiness, we will document our search for the best life.