Frameworks

PERMA

Despite sterling academic credentials, University of Pennsylvania professor Martin Seligman has been unabashed in his embrace of a career pop psychology. (“‘I’m rich,’ I announced to my mother on the phone.”)

Seligman might be best known for PERMA, his acronym for summarizing the elements that, according to a body of psychological research, correlate with a happy life.

The buckets are as follows:

  • Positive emotions: feeling good
  • Engagement: finding flow states
  • Relationships: making authentic connections
  • Meaning: having purpose
  • Achievement: feeling a sense of accomplishment

I’m not totally sold on this framework as a one size fits all guide to living well. For one, it has nothing to say regarding health and fitness, widely acknowledged to have an enormous impact on our mental health and happiness.

But the model does seem to be grounded in a fairly robust body of psychological research. And I have found it useful as a framework for quick check-ins regarding one’s current lifestyle.

It can even serve as a simple short-term planning tool. What activities can I undertake today that will help me to feel good in the moment? To get into a state of flow? To connect with family and friends? To make progress on my life’s mission? To get some wins under my belt?

Such an approach seems likely to yield a pretty good day, week, month, year and beyond.

Life Patterns

Cycling

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The bicycle is one of humanity’s most recent transportation innovations – more recent even that the locomotive or automobile. It is also perhaps the most healthy, elegantly simple and timeless of all of them.

Cycling is one of the best ways to get low impact cardiovascular exercise. Compared to other means of getting around, it is extremely environmentally friendly. Furthermore, bicycles are beautiful machines, dynamic sculptures that serve a profoundly useful purpose: there is great aesthetic pleasure in the contemplation of a good bicycle. Moreover, by electing to maintain and repair our bicycles ourselves, we are also working to maintain our natural connection to the mechanical nature of our things, so often severed in our relationships with our tech devices.

To be sure, bicycles are not be-all end-all of transportation. While bikes can be ridden very long distances, such marathons are not particularly practical for most of us. Nor are they a good means of transporting large or heavy goods. Seasonal and safety considerations further limit the potential of the bicycle to be a Swiss army knife of transportation for all.

All of that said, in the right context, nothing beats a bike for getting around.

Therefore, whenever possible, use the bicycle as your primary means of mechanical transportation, and incorporate the regular care, maintenance and love of bicycles into your style of life.

Life Patterns

Happiness is love


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Humans require love and connection, more than any other single ingredient, in order to live happy and fulfilling lives.

For more than three quarters of a century, the landmark Grant and Glueck study, led by researchers at Harvard University, has tracked the physical and emotional health of two populations:

  • 456 poor people in Boston from 1939 to 2014 (the Grant Study)
  • 268 graduates from Harvard’s classes of 1939–1944 (the Glueck study)

While the study is still ongoing, principal researchers have shared many of the findings to date. Principal among them has been the observation that close, loving relationships, more than wealth, celebrity, social class, genetics, or any other factor, are at the core of what keeps people happy and physically healthy throughout their lives.

“Warmth of relationships throughout life has the greatest positive impact on ‘life satisfaction,'” said George Vaillant, a principal investigator on the study. “Happiness is love. Full stop.”

The Harvard study is only one example from a wide boy of research on the central role of relationships in keeping us healthy and happy.

A second significant body of research indicates that it is possible – and indeed essential – to treat love, and relationship building, as skills that can be sustained and enhanced through hard work. There is, of course, no one simple formula or checklist for cultivating close, loving relationships – everyone is different, and loves differently. What matters most is that we seek out loving, healthy relationships in our own way and on our own terms, and that we recognize the need for ongoing work in this area of our lives.

Therefore, cultivate happiness in your life, and in the lives of those around you, the way a gardener cultivates her plants, providing them the nourishment they need in order to thrive.

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Life Patterns

Walking as transportation and recreation

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More than any other creature on earth, humans have evolved as masters of travel on foot, but our modern lifestyles often alienate us from this key aspect of our being, weakening us both physically and mentally.

Over tens of thousands of years, the human body was our primary mode of transportation; among all species we are the best adapted to cover long distances on foot. As a result of this evolutionary legacy, studies show, we are at our best in our lives when we walk a lot. Our bodies stay strong and mobile, our minds sharp and flexible. Walking costs us nothing, aside from the small amount of fuel it burns in the form of food calories. Compared with other modes of transportation, it is astoundingly environmentally friendly, with no need for heavy, energy-guzzling machines and the expensive infrastructure they rely upon to function.

Of course, walking isn’t always easy today. It is slow compared to other “heavier” modes of transportation. And, moreover, much of today’s world, which prioritizes speed and scale, is optimized to support these faster, more energy-intensive modes at walking’s expense. (Ever tried walking to CostCo?)

And yet, it is still very possible to set up a lifestyle based around walking. There are many communities, and neighbourhoods within these communities, that have a diverse range of amenities within walking distance. This includes practical amenities, such as tktktkt that allow us to incorporate walking into our daily routines and chores. It also includes beautiful spaces, such as parks, attractive streets and campuses, and wilderness areas that provide inviting spaces in which to walk for pure pleasure. There is something fundamentally absurd about individuals driving long distances to workout – perhaps on the treadmill – at vast, expensive chain gyms. Perhaps this is why so many of us, despite the best of intentions, pay for expensive gym memberships that we rarely use. How much better to live a life in which there is no for gyms or the motivation to drag ourselves into them?

Therefore, structure your lifestyle to include regular walking both as a mode of transportation and for pleasure, so that such behavior becomes automatic.

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Frameworks

The Top Five Regrets of the Dying

As its title suggests, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, by Australian former hospice nurse Bronnie Ware, is focused on people’s thoughts and feelings, at the end of their lives, about what might have been.

It’s a sombre subject, but also a helpful one, because of course the book is also very much about what might yet be in the lives of its readers.

The top five regrets discussed in the book are as follows:

  • I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me
  • I wish I hadn’t worked so much
  • I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings
  • I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends
  • I wish that I had let myself be happier

These painful observations can be reframed as directives to those who are not yet facing the imminent end of their lives:

  • Live a life true to yourself
  • Don’t work too much
  • Express your feelings
  • Stay in touch with friends
  • Let yourself be happy

For those seeking to live a life at the lower end of the regret scale, these feel like useful commandments to return to and assess repeatedly as one moves along on one’s own life’s journey, hopefully with many milestones still to come.