Health and Wellness |

Six Pillars That Underpin ‘Flourishing’

September 5, 2019
grandaughter sitting on grandfathers shoulders outdoors

As our overall health improves and as the age of retirement for many of us moves further and further away, it’s important to think about how the effects of ageing will impact on general ability to work and our overall wellbeing.

According to Professor Martin Seligman⁴, one of the founding fathers of positive psychology, there are five pillars that underpin ‘flourishing’. This model, referred as PERMA, was further developed by Professor Emiliya Zhivotovskaya of The Flourishing Centre to include a ‘V’ for vitality, thus creating PERMA-V. The PERMA-V model serves as a practical guide for developing protective thinking and practices as we age.

P: Positive Emotions

Aim to create moments of positivity in your day. Get out in nature, connect with friends, find a reason to laugh, go for a walk or do the simple things that you love to do. Know what makes you happy.

E: Engagement

Engagement is about being interested and involved in life. It is about knowing and playing to your strengths as a way of helping you feel more confident, energised and connected. Engagement is about finding your flow and being who you are. Seligman⁴, likens it to being ‘at one with the music’ and more importantly, an activity that helps you lose track of time. Illardi³, proposes that losing self-consciousness through engaging in hobbies or interests in one of the most powerful ways to ward off depression.

R: Relationships

You are never too old to invest in relationships and make the time to genuinely connect with loved-ones. Show kindness, express gratitude and make the time to disconnect from technology. It is about feeling loved, valued and connected with others. Know which friends and family members replenish you or deplete you. Make conscious decisions about who and how you spend time with people.

M: Cultivate Meaning

Meaning is about having a sense of direction and feeling that our lives are worthwhile. It’s about connecting with someone bigger than ourselves. Take time to connect with the difference you make to others every day. Connect with your values and let them be your compass in decision making.

Train your brain to recall the positive interactions, the patients you saved and the difference you make. Connect with your values, write them down and make them your compass. Having a sense of direction and living with purpose makes our lives feel worthwhile. It’s a reminder that we are connected to something bigger than ourselves.

A: Accomplishment

You are never too old to have life goals! Accomplishment is all about your belief and ability to achieve what you want. A sense of mastery and progress goes a long way to building resilience. Track your goals and celebrate successes. Develop your skills and knowledge in areas that assist you to combat the challenges of ageing.

V: Vitality

Vitality is about creating optimal bodies through health and wellness. Vitality is strongly associated with general physical and mental health, but it is not a simple relationship. Research suggests that most things that have a negative effect on physical health or mood also have a negative effect on vitality. Smoking, a poor diet, inactivity, and a stressful environment are all negatively associated with vitality (and health).

Look after your body with good nutrition and regular exercise. Studies continue to show a strong relationship between the gut and our emotional state. We now know over ninety per cent of serotonin production occurs in the small intestine². One Australian study also showed that a sporting activity, three times a week can reduce psychological distress by up to thirty-four per cent¹.

As you age, it’s also important to maintain a sleep routine as best as you can.

Going to bed and getting up at the same time where possible, with a recommended 7-9 hours’ sleep period for adults⁵.

If you’re prone to worrying or ruminating over the day’s events, consider setting a ‘worry window’. This means allowing yourself five to ten minutes to review the day before you transition to bed. Recognise what is in your control and out of your control in that present moment. Now ‘close’ your worry window, knowing your list will be there for you in the morning.

Transitioning to sleep i.e. sending your brain the signal that it’s time to rest. This can include turning off major lights, cooling the room, taking a shower or drinking a warm drink. It can also be useful to quieten the mind by removing smartphones. Avoid exercise, caffeine and stimulating activities before bed. This should also be the routine if you are on-call or trying to rest between after-hours calls.

Don’t force yourself to sleep. If you’re still awake after 30 minutes, get up and do something boring in another room. Keep lights dim. When you feel tired, return to your room. This helps your brain recognise that bedrooms are for sleeping.


¹ Brumby, S et al. 2011 ‘Reducing psychological distress and obesity in Australian farmers by promoting physical activity’, BMC Public Health, vol. 11, no. 362. Retrieved from
² Foster, J and Neufeld, KA 2013 ‘Gut-brain axis: how the microbiome influences anxiety and depression’, Trends in Neurosciences, vol. 35, no. 5, pp. 305-312
³ Ilardi, S 2010 ‘The Depression Cure’ Vermilion Penguin Random House UK
⁴ Seligman, M 2011 Flourish. New York: Free Press. pp. 16–20
⁵ Watson, N et al. 2015 ‘Recommended amount of sleep for a healthy adult: A joint consensus statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society’, Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, vol. 11, no. 6, pp. 591-592

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