Infographic: Building Blocks of the Good Life (PERMA-V)

This is the second artwork (well…) in my self-imposed learning journey on the way to producing decent infographics. This time, I chose Martin Seligman´s PERMA framework, which, by many people, is considered to be the most comprehensive framework of “the good life”, the foundation of Positive Psychology in science and practice.

Since PERMA is not exactly hot from the presses, I added a little twist: For a couple of years now, Marty challenges his students in the Penn Master of Positive Psychology program to propose meaningful additions to the original PERMA outline (Positive Emotions | Engagement | Relationships | Meaning | Achievement). Over time, it became clear that the original framework may be somewhat “neck-up”, thereby omitting aspects such as sports, sex, sustenance, and sleep.

PERMA-V: Positive Psychology, neck-up and neck-down

Therefore, students kept asking for the letter “S” to be added – which ultimately would result in the acronym PERMAS (doesn´t sound too funky…) or SPERMA (uh-uh, not a proper name for a scientific term…). Meanwhile, there seems to be a growing mutual consent to choose the letter “V” for Vitality – and to put it at the end with a hyphen.

What do you think?


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5 short Videos on Positive Psychology

Dr. Nico Rose - Other People MatterIn April 2015, I gave a keynote on Positive Psychology for several hundred people at the BMW-Arena in Munich.

The talk was recorded and I received a DVD a couple of weeks later. Finally, I’ve found the time to cut and edit some of the parts – these are the videos displayed below.

They’re in German of course and due to the sound equipment, I seem to have a slight lisp (which is not the case) – but nevermind.

The first video is a general introduction to Seligman’s PERMA framework, the second talks about positive emotions and especially, emotional contagion. The third video talks about the importance of social support (Other People Matter), the fourth about Esa Saarinen’s concept of systems of holding back, and the final one is about Daniel Kahneman and peak-end-theory.

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A KPI for the Leaders of the Future: Return On Flourishing (ROFL)

First, I have to admit it feels really good to think something (or at least: say it “in the digital public”) for the very first time. At least with regard to Google hits, I´ve created a new expression:

Return on Flourishing - Dr. Nico Rose

Return On Flourishing (ROFL – pun somewhat intended)

In my main occupation, I work as a human resources director. In most business organizations, Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are of paramount importance. One of the most important KPIs in every organization is Return on Investment (ROI). In its simplest form, ROI is the return of some activity divided by the cost of that same activity. For instance, if a marketing campaign costs $10,000 and (identifiably) leads to $20,000 in additional sales in a certain period of time, the ROI of that project is 200%.

To this effect, it would also be possible to calculate a Return on Flourishing – which I propose to be the additional (financial) return that is generated by investing in measures designed to foster flourishing of the company´s workforce; minus the cost of those measures. By now, there´s an abundant body of research that is able to demonstrate that companies which invest in employee wellbeing do indeed fare better economically – which may ultimately even be detectable in stock prices (please check out the following paper: Does the stock market fully value intangibles? Employee satisfaction and equity prices).

By way of example, employee well-being could lead to a better quality of products or services; or a more engaged salesforce, leading to better sales figures. On the other hand, higher levels of flourishing may lead to cost reductions, e.g., by decreasing levels of absenteeism and healthcare costs; or lower levels of employee turnover which in turn helps to minimize recruiting costs. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect that investing in employee flourishing will lead to an increase in financial returns. In order to make this effect visible and clearly identifiable from the inside perspective, first, we would have to establish a baseline of overall flourishing in the workforce. Based on Seligman´s PERMA framework, we could rather easily measure the following:

Alternatively, there are existing “one-stop” questionnaires to measure flourishing, e.g., the PERMA Profiler (please check out my MAPP Capstone thesis for its items; this could be adapted so as to better fit to a working context).

Second, one or more activities to foster workforce flourishing would have to be implemented. For instance, there could be company-wide workshops on job crafting. Or rather, first we would have to implement that project with a part of the workforce (treatment group; e.g., a product line) in order to later compare those employees with another group that will receive the workshops at another point in time (control group; another product line). If, after implementation, the treatment group shows significantly higher levels of flourishing compared to the control group (manipulation check), we could move on to the final step.

Ultimately, the financial success of the different business units would have to be calculated for several ensuing periods. If the treatment group fares significantly better than the control group (e.g., a significant increase in sales), this difference could be attributed to the increase in employee flourishing. Of course, it is always tricky to make this kind of causal inference, but there are lots of steps one can take to rule out or control for other effects. Now, if the increase in financial returns surpasses the cost of the measures to increase flourishing (over time), we would assume a positive Return on Flourishing (ROFL).

Return on Flourishing (ROFL): the wider Perspective

Of course, this is still a rather limited point of view. Studies were able to show that an increase in well-being at work leads to higher levels of general well-being. To that effect, we can assume there could a be a wider ROFL – where higher employee well-being leads to an increased level of well-being with regard to the company´s community and stakeholder groups via a kind of ripple effect.

What are your thoughts on this?

The Eudaimonic Wellbeing and Happiness of Undertakers

UndertakerYesterday, I gave a one-hour introductory talk on Positive Psychology. Yet, the listeners weren´t your usual business crowd. The talk was embedded in a convention of about 100 undertakers (more formally: morticians); precisely, they were a youth organization (in this case meaning: under 40) of the “German Association of Morticians”. The convention was held in a larger hotel complex and there even was an exhibition for hearses, caskets, urns, and other…well…undertaker supplies. Actually, some of the regular hotel guests looked a bit scared.

While introducing Marty Seligman´s PERMA model of flourishing and talking about meaning in life, and interesting question came to my mind: Are undertakers happier or unhappier than the average person? And: are they experiencing higher levels of eudaimonic well-being in their lives?

Obviously, undertakers are confronted with death and mortality all the time – but not necessarily their own mortality. Yet, this could be the case, of course. And this, in turn, should lead to specific consequences. Making people think about their own death (inducing a “limited time perspective”) has been shown to increase prosocial behavior and diminish one´s “extrinsic value orientation”. And this is associated with higher eudaimonic well-being.

I did some straw polls with their participants. Most confirmed that they are leading fulfilled lives. But they also admitted there seems to be a high prevalence of burnout in that profession – probably as a consequence of the “emotional work” it entails.

Anyway, that should be an interesting study from many different angles: comparing undertakers with the general population. Anyone wants to do it?


Picture source

Positive Psychology in a Nutshell: Watch this beautiful 5-minute Instructional Video

Today, while fixing something with my own, rather puerile Introduction to Positive Psychology on Youtube, I stumbled on this absolute gem of an instructional video. It´s a concise first-rate 5-minute introduction to Positive Psychology (as outlined in Marty Seligman´s recent book “Flourish”).

Why does it only have some 100K views? If cute cat videos (I mean, this is reeaaaaaly cute…) can get +50 million views, this one should have 100 million at least. So if you care about Positive Psychology, please share the hell heaven out of this thing…

What makes Life meaningful? 3 Answers for You…

My Direction

One of the letters in Martin Seligman´s PERMA outline of Positive Psychology is M for Meaning (in life). In this post, I would like to point you to three outstanding resources on that topic:

First, check out Maria Popova´s fabulous Brain Pickings site – in this case her essay on Viktor Frankl´s Logotherapy and his conception of meaning in life.

Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.

Second, you might want to have a look at Michael Steger´s TEDx talk – where he explains why and how meaning in life can be a matter of life an death; and what role relationships play in that piece.

And third, here´s a link to a website I discovered recently which contains a psychological test that can help you to find your personal “purpose pattern” (at work). It was created by a team around Aaron Hurst, author of The Purpose Economy. I found that some familiar MAPP faces are also associated with that project, namely “Chief Giving Officer” Adam Grant, and Job Crafting Authority Amy Wrzesniewski.


Hell is other People? On being Happy with & without Others

The MAPP program is a fulltime program – but combines onsite classes with long-distance learning periods. Part of the distance learning comprises a lot of reading (Who would have thought of that…) and writing essays about a wide array of positive psychology topics. I´ve decided to post some of those essays here on Mappalicious. Surely, they´re not the be-all and end-all of academic writing. But then again, it would also be a pity to bury them in the depths of my laptop…


There is an abundance of proverbs that are suggestive of the positive upshots of close relationships. By way of example, we say “no man is an island” and therefore “a sorrow shared is a sorrow halved”. Or vice versa: “A joy shared is a joy doubled.”

Positive psychology and adjacent disciplines underscore this importance of close relationships, be it friendship, love, or the support of a larger social entity (Reis & Gable, 2003). When asked to give a short definition of positive psychology, the late Christopher Peterson used to say: “Other people matter.” (2006, p. 249). Fredrickson (2013) complements this observation by stating that love (and its benefits) cannot be a matter of one person, but resides in pairs or groups of people. For Seligman (2011), close relationships are of uttermost importance as well. They are embodied by the letter R in the acronym PERMA which represents his framework of human flourishing.

There is ample evidence that experiencing a sense of relatedness is a fundamental need of humans (Baumeister & Leary, 1995) – and other mammals (Harlow, 1958). Accordingly, feeling close to others has several positive consequences. For instance, married couples on average are happier than singles or divorced women and men, and they also tend to live longer (Peterson, 2006; Fredrickson, 2013). Similar results have been found for long-lasting friendships (Myers, 2000; Demır & Weitekamp, 2007). Conversely, feeling lonely over longer periods of time has shown to be detrimental to our mood and, subsequently, health (de Jong Gierveld, 1998; Hawkley & Cacioppo, 2010). In addition, researchers have shown that happiness tends to spread in social networks. Being surrounded by happy people results in an increased likelihood of being happy oneself (Fowler & Christakis, 2008; Christakis & Fowler, 2009).

Yet, there is another perspective on close relationships. The existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre coined the famous quote “Hell is other people” (1944, p. 191) and he may have had a point in saying so. After all, relationships are the source of some of our greatest joys, but also the context for some of our greatest sorrows. Couples regularly hurt each other (Feeney, 2004) and being physically abused is much more likely in the context of one´s family than with total strangers (Emery & Laumann-Billings, 1998). Even the aforementioned concept of social contagion can work against us. While there is statistical evidence that happiness can be transferred from one person to another, the same holds true for unhappiness and even depression (Rosenquist, Fowler, & Christakis, 2010). So what is the solution here? Are other people heaven – or are they hell after all?

The truth is: even Sartre did not believe that being around other people is necessarily bad for us. He seemed to be rather unhappy when being narrowed down to this infamous quote. Some 20 years later he said:

“Hell is other people” has always been misunderstood. People thought that what I meant by it is that our relations with others are always rotten or illicit. But I mean something entirely different. I mean that if our relations with others are twisted or corrupted, then others have to be hell. Fundamentally, others are what is important in us for our understanding of ourselves. (Sartre, 1965; cited in Contat & Rybalka, 1974, p. 99)

Obviously, Sartre emphasizes the quality of our relationships when contemplating the outcomes of being with other people. Having close relationships can have all the above mentioned upshots – but as humans we also have the potential to spoil these positive consequences if we are not careful enough.

In this spirit, I will now try to make a point that at present I cannot really substantiate with scientific research – but which may hold some truth nonetheless. I believe that in order to be happy in a relationship (be it friendship, marriage, or being part of a larger community), one has to be happy with oneself already – at least to a certain extent. This may be a case of “mesearch”, but then again, it may also be true. It is not at all unlikely that there is a kind of threshold, a minimum level of self-liking or -love that is a precondition for entering into fulfilling relationships with other human beings. To make this point, let´s reconsider the research on married couples. While it is fairly unequivocal that married people are at least a little bit happier than non-married people on average, it is not at all clear if this is due to a causal relationship. Consequently, we do not know for sure that marrying produces happiness. It might just as well be true that people who are already happy before getting married stand a better chance of finding and keeping a life partner (Peterson, 2006). Looking at my own life, I find this to be true. Now that I am married man and have child, I am definitely happier than I was before having met my wife. But: I definitely needed to “come to terms with myself” first in order to be prepared to let myself in for this relationship. Once again: I could not find any convincing empirical evidence for this idea – but I am fairly sure that many people would agree based on their own experiences.

To conclude, I propose that well-being neither resides in the individual alone, nor that it is solely confined to instances where we are with other people. Happiness and well-being are certainly multiplied when shared with others – but we have to “bring something to the table” in the first place in order to make it work.


  • Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117(3), 497-529.
  • Christakis, N. A., & Fowler, J. H. (2009). Connected: The surprising power of our social networks and how they shape our lives. New York: Little Brown and Company.
    Contat, M., & Rybalka, M. A. (1974). The writings of Jean-Paul Sartre (Vol.1). Evanston: Northwestern University Press.
  • de Jong Gierveld, J. (1998). A review of loneliness: Concept and definitions, determinants and consequences. Reviews in Clinical Gerontology, 8, 73-80.
  • Demır, M., & Weitekamp, L. A. (2007). I am so happy ’cause today I found my friend: Friendship and personality as predictors of happiness. Journal of Happiness Studies, 8(2), 181-211.
  • Emery, R. E., & Laumann-Billings, L. (1998). An overview of the nature, causes, and consequences of abusive family relationships: Toward differentiating maltreatment and violence. American Psychologist, 53(2), 121-135.
  • Feeney, J. A. (2004). Hurt feelings in couple relationships: Towards integrative models of the negative effects of hurtful events. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 21(4), 487-508.
  • Fowler, J. H., & Christakis, N. A. (2008). Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network: Longitudinal analysis over 20 years in the Framingham Heart Study. British Medical Journal, 337, a2338.
  • Fredrickson, B. L. (2013). Love 2.0: How our supreme emotion affects everything we feel, think, do, and become. New York: Hudson Street Press.
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  • Peterson, C. (2006). A primer in positive psychology. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Reis, H. T., & Gable, S. L. (2003). Toward a positive psychology of relationships. In C. L. Keyes & J. Haidt (Eds.), Flourishing: The positive person and the good life (pp. 129–159). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
  • Rosenquist, J. N., Fowler, J. H., & Christakis, N. A. (2010). Social network determinants of depression. Molecular psychiatry, 16(3), 273-281.
  • Sartre, J.-P. (1944). In camera and other plays. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
  • Seligman, M. E. (2011). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. New York: Free Press.