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Where do you sit on the Wellbeing spectrum?

Updated: Jun 15, 2021

Take the free online test to measure your PERMA happiness.

Each and everyone of us want to be Happy in life, but how many of us are actually experiencing life to the fullest?

In Psychology, we like to think of human wellbeing as being on a spectrum.

At the negative end of this same spectrum sits the worst state of human experience. People who sit at this end might be the ones who are experiencing a host of Mental Disorders, much like Depression or General Anxiety.

At the very best end, we have the peak of wellbeing where life is experienced at the optimal level. Everyday feels like a day worth living. Positive Psychology has a term to denote this: Flourishing.

That's what you look like when you have a strong sense of purpose in life. You're also surrounded by people you love and care about everyday. Your mind is engaged and challenged, and you feel a general sense of contentment with your life.

Yet many of us find ourselves sitting somewhere between - neither suffering nor feeling entirely happy.

You're right of course, you can sit anywhere along the spectrum.

If we could mark the imaginary 'middle' of the line as being of Normal Functioning, then anywhere below that middle has a term as well: Languishing, where you just aren't thriving as much as you could be.

Credits: Well-being Institute, University of Cambridge, 2011.

Research into happiness has actually found that most people are generally happy (blue portion above). Only a lucky few are flourishing.

However, you're probably reading this because you don't feel very happy lately. Maybe life has recently thrown you a one time jialat (bad) curveball and you've found yourself struck out and stuck in a really difficult situation for days, weeks, or months or years. The ongoing pandemic doesn't help either.

It sucks.

Being unable to experience life to the fullest for a prolonged period of time is a waste of the one and only life we've been given.

We might not always know the best way to get ourselves back on track.

I'll give you an example with a little personal story.

A while ago, I was really unhappy with my job. I work as a Behavioural Data Scientist, a career I've sold out into after graduating as a Psychologist nearly a decade ago.

It might sound like some swee swee atas (fancy) job and all, but my job then was as fulfilling as being paid to lick stamps and stick them on envelopes.

I was also seriously finding it challenging to like the people at work. Just like myself, I felt that many of my colleagues were simply there because the company paid them decently well.

I felt that they were selfish, inconsiderate, and didn't really care much about anything other than themselves. Just my opinion of course. Keeping people around by waving paychecks came at the cost of having a great company culture, team work and people actually liking what they do.

Yet, I felt trapped.

I told myself I couldn't quit my job. As a Singaporean, I was caught in a rat race. I told myself that I needed the consistent paycheck for my wife and I, that we needed to pay for our mortgage on the house we just bought. I was only one and a half years into the job. Quitting would make my CV look bad

"Why are you complaining?", I had to convince myself, "your life and job isn't that hard . Stop whining and collect paycheck lah".

So I trudged on.

Remaining in a Languishing state sets the path for deeper disorders.

All the negative emotions I felt at work quickly crept into other parts of my day. I became annoyed with many other things in life. I started paying more attention to the negative. Even random strangers outside my work started to annoy me.

The work week went by meaningless. And then I started feeling depressed even on weekends too. When Sunday came and I knew the week was about to reset, I despaired. I felt like I hadn't done anything useful with my time the entire week.

I started rebuilding my life around PERMA.

If you haven't read it already, PERMA is positive psychology's model of happiness. Research conducted on the science of happiness and wellbeing suggests that Flourishing is made up of five fundamental components.

  1. Positive Emotions

  2. Engagement

  3. Relationships

  4. Meaning

  5. Achievements

A life built around all of the above is a Flourishing life. The best thing is, you can start living it now.

Even doing poorly on one or two of the PERMA areas might be what's making you unhappy.

For example, you could have plenty of Meaning in your life and enjoy your time being engaged in what you do. However, a lack of positive relationships in your life might be making you lonely.

Or perhaps, a close one is currently suffering some unhappiness and that has really affected you. This was the case for my wife, who enjoys her work in healthcare, but struggled when I was being a lousy husband and brought my unhappiness home.

In another situation, you might have built your life around a busy activity-packed schedule. Your weeks comprise of a variety of social engagements and enjoyable activities, including ones that get you in flow. However, without connecting these to some form of bigger purpose in your life, your life still feels empty and meaningless.

These leakages in our PERMA areas will still eventually make us unhappy.

Holistically, we will feel that something is still not right and as time goes on, we resort to our unhealthy coping behaviours again. Just like it did for me.

PRO TIP: A starting point in your journey to rediscovering Happiness, might be to focus on the areas you are performing least well on.

Measure your wellbeing with this free PERMA Profiler tool.

The PERMA Profiler is a validated psychological assessment created by Butler and Kern in 2016. It takes merely a minute or two to complete, comprising of 23 questions that you rate on a scale of 1-10.

Here's an example question that measures your performance on Positive Emotions:

"In general, to what extent do you feel contented", where a score of 0 means Not at All and 10 means Completely.

This test is provided completely free by Yale University and you can take it in the link below:

Done it? Got your profile? Here's how to understand your results.

The PERMA Profiler gives you results ranging from 0 to 10. For positive dimensions, the higher the number the better the score.

There are two negative dimensions, Loneliness and Negative Emotions, where the scores should be interpreted in reverse.

The creator of the tool, Peggy Kern, has since collected scores from a number of countries and languages. Below is how she suggests we should interpret the scores:

  • Very high functioning = 9 and above (0 to 1 for negative emotion)

  • High functioning = 8-8.9 (1.1 to 3 for negative emotion)

  • Normal functioning = 6.5 to 7.9 (3 to 5 for negative emotion)

  • Sub-optimal functioning = 5 to 6.4 (5.1 to 6.5 for negative emotion)

  • Languishing = below 5 (above 6.5 for negative emotion)

After completing the assessment, take some time to reflect on your scores. Notice that it doesn't diagnose any mental illness. This isn't what this test was built to do.

If your scores are all sitting in the Normal to High range, it sounds like you're already doing the things that are important for a healthy and happy mind. Do reflect on the positives in your life that keep you in this range and proactively continue these good habits on your life-long journey of Happiness.

Continue to be kind to others and lend your strength.

If some of your scores are sitting in the Sub-optimal or Languishing range, these are the areas your could focus more on.

PRO TIP: Suppose a miracle will happen tonight. Tomorrow, you'll wake up and things will have changed for the better. What are some of the changes that made it better?

I took the test right in the middle of my stage of Unhappiness. My PERMA Profile looked like I was failing in life.

My performance on the PERMA Profile of Positive Psychology (Martin Seligman)
My PERMA Profile

I was in the sub-optimal range for most of my scores except for Relationships, where I only have to thank my loving wife, family and friends for.

Health wasn't an issue for me either.

In particular, my Positive Emotions were borderline in the Languishing zone.

The scores reflected how I felt each day back then, with a very biased focus on all things negative at work, at home, or in my life. There were periods of joy and happiness, sure, but the overall tendency was still negative.

Next up are Meaning and Engagement.

The scores were a reflection on how I was spending my time. I had lost my sense of Purpose, not sure which direction I should be taking in my life anymore. I wasn't engaged, spending day after day at work grumbling and unhappy, thinking of the day I could quit.

I brought my unhappiness back home with me and spent my evenings engaging in passive activities, such as watching tv and drinking alcohol.

This continued into the weekend. By the time Sunday came around, I could only look back on the past week and see a void of emptiness.

Where do you go from here?

There's only so much one can gain from reading.

Let me be really honest. There's not going to be any magical book or blog that you read and you start living happier ever after.

Finding and rediscovering happiness is going to take some work, but it's entirely worth doing so. It involves:

  • Building positive habits in your daily lives, such as gratitude and positive reflections.

  • Reviewing and acting on your relationships while also understanding what you truly value in life.

  • Most importantly, it requires commitment to keep working on your journey and progress on your goal of being Happy.

So check out the a few of the toolkits in the Positive Psychology method.

Start with the ones that you think might help you the most.

If you are unhappy now and want to commit yourself to becoming Happy again, I really encourage you to join me on this journey together.

Why only be happier One Day?

Why not make it Day One. Starting right now, right now.

By the way, these are my scores on the PERMA profiler after just a few months starting on my Happiness Journey.

I'd say it's gotten a whole lot better.

After adapting my life to focus on Happiness, my scores on the PERMA Profile improved significantly!
My updated PERMA Profile

If you'd like to keep a copy of your PERMA profile in the same visual format, I've shared a simple excel file that you can input your scores in below.

Your PERMA Profile - Finding Lost Sunday
Download • 17KB

Hey you! Thanks for reading Kaya Toast for the Soul. If you've found this useful, please do share with your friends and loved ones. Drop me a comment or send me an email if there's anything I can help you with.


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