E is for Engagement

In the last edition of the Messenger, we continued our exploration of Martin Seligman's PERMA model of well-being by considering 'The Pleasant Life,' otherwise referred to as Positive Emotions. We looked at ways to cultivate feelings like joy, gratitude, hope, awe, excitement, and inspiration and highlighted the importance of savouring these moments. Today we focus our attention on Engagement. In the PERMA model, Engagement refers to involvement in tasks that a person finds to be intrinsically motivating.

Engagement is often used interchangeably with the word 'Flow,' which is seen as the highest level of Engagement. In getting our minds around these terms, some readers may connect with the following quote, which goes to the core of what Engagement is:

"You're so involved in what you're doing; you aren't thinking about yourself as separate from the immediate activity. You're no longer an observer, only a participant. You're moving in harmony with something else you're part of." (Csikszentmihalyi, 1975)

Another way to consider this important factor of well-being is to reflect on times in our lives where we have fully immersed in the moment. It may have been a special event, an activity, or a conversation. We may have lost track of time in those moments because we were completely engaged in what we were doing. We are more likely to have such experiences when our character strengths have been employed when our skillsets have matched the challenge's difficulty level, and when the experience itself is the reward. 

Adapted from

Experiences of Flow through the use of our strengths leads to increased levels of happiness, decreased levels of depression, more significant backgrounds of positive emotions, and improved physical and mental well-being. Research has also identified a positive association between experiences of Engagement and life satisfaction. It should not surprise us that partaking in activities that engage us is an enjoyable experience. Increasing the likelihood that we will invest the time and energy into other practice or pursue that hobby/sport/interest/subject and subsequently develop more practical skills in that domain.

The following are offered as activities that you or other members of your family may choose to explore the Engagement factor of well-being.   

Hints and Tips

  • Identify and learn about your character strengths through the VIA character strengths survey. Once you have the results, consider whether there are any surprises.
  • Once you have discovered or been reminded of your character strengths, considering your top five forces, ask yourself, "Is this a signature strength of mine?".
  • If the answer to the above question turns out to be yes, then find ways to use those strengths as often as possible (e.g., at work, in relationships, or with your children).
  • Set aside a designated time to use one or more of your strengths in a new way or approach a familiar task that employs one of your top five character strengths and then reflect on how you felt before, during, and after.

Choose a task/activity that matches your skill level, select a time that suits you to undertake the task, remove distractions, and focus your mind on that single task. You may find the following diagram useful in selecting a job to experience Flow as it considers both the level of challenge and your level of skill. Other factors to consider in choosing the task/activity are whether you will set clear goals and whether immediate feedback will be available.

  • Spend time being present in nature by focussing on one of your senses. You can also be present and savour moments in other locations or at other times by checking in with any of your feelings (e.g., identify five things that you can hear).
  • Practice mindfulness-awareness or 'focussed attention' exercises. Practicing these skills can lead to improved concentration and absorption in tasks. Many apps can assist in the initial stages of practice.
  • Take the time to do the things that you love to do, whatever that is.
  • Listen to the Music for Well-being: Engagement playlist (see details in the Further Reading/Listening section).
  • If you are stuck for what to do, try any of the following activities which people often report induces a sense of Flow: singing, dancing, playing a sport, engaging in some work, having a conversation, or reading a good book.

Wishing you all the best in your on-going pursuit of well-being for yourself and those you care for.

Further Reading/Listening

Institute of Positive Education Music for Well-being: Engagement available through the ABC Listen App presented by Greta Bradman Seligman, M.E.P (2011). Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being. New York City, NY: Atria Books University of Pennsylvania's Authentic Happiness resources Well-being and Resilience Centre (Western Australia)

Educational and Developmental Psychologist