Adapting the PERMA model to Teaching

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During our interactions with teachers, we found that they have momentary experiences of Joy but they find it difficult to sustain them. We started introducing models of happiness during our Joy of Teaching workshops so that they gain intellectual clarity on Joy and Happiness and apply them by relevantly adapting them.

PERMA Model of Happiness

Martin Seligman is an american psychologist, educator and author. His PERMA model of happiness is quite well-known, practical and applicable in various settings. PERMA model is a scientific theory of happiness and joy that can help people reach fulfilment in life. Here is how this model can be applied to teaching.

  • Positive Emotion: Positive emotion is a certain good feeling. For many of us, positive emotions shape our worldview. The way we look at things changes with our state of mind. Hence positive emotions make us look at things and events around us in a positive manner. Many teachers shared that appreciation keeps them motivated and happy. In the teaching profession, appreciation can be got from students, colleagues, administration and the society. While classroom feedback from students can make us happy, it does not stay long. When our students grow up to occupy important positions in the society and acknowledge our role in their growth, we feel immensely happy and that gives us a good feeling to take forward our activities with a positive outlook. If we expand our vision for teaching beyond classroom appreciations, we can derive much deeper fulfilling emotions. But that would need our full engagement and involvement.
  • Engagement: Let us see the next factor, which is one of the key factors in bringing about positive emotion- how involved we are with our life. It’s called engagement, or involvement- how much involvement we show. For example, in our role as teachers, there are certain expectations. The main factor for involvement is our expectation. Depending on our expectation, our involvement is complete or partial. On what basis do I say this? Let us say that we wish to have a good time, feel happy and peaceful-this is our expectation. With this expectation, we do our actions with involvement. If we perform our actions with involvement with this expectation in mind, does it result in a sense of completion within oneself? Are we satisfied all the time? No. We are not satisfied all the time. And hence only for certain time periods, we get that satisfaction and the positive emotion we expect. Many times we don’t receive it. Why? Because our expectations are such. The expectation window is that way. Let’s say that our expectation is not just for positive emotion, but much more expansive-we ask ourselves why we have come here? We have subject matter expertise, we wish to perform our actions with joyful and passionate involvement and be successful. Then our expectations become reduced. Then you will see, you will be able to do much more, with a lot of involvement, and through that you will be able to enjoy positive emotion.

But still, there will be certain circumstances where it will not be enough if you just do your research or teach; the institution you are working in will give you a hundred jobs. Then what happens? Here there is no teaching-learning process.You feel,” I like only teaching. I like only research.” Then, only during the period of teaching or research,your experience will be good. If there is some other work,it will be like torture,and you may feel,”There are not letting me do my work!Teaching is my passion,not this!” Then how does our anubhava become? It changes according to the situation,because our engagement reduces.

Our anubhava, experience is actually as per our expectations. But we don’t see it. If it has to be enjoyable, our expectation window should be as expansive as possible, and as fundamental as possible. “Why have we come here?” -this should be our fundamental baseline. If we wish to have complete and passionate involvement, our expectation should be looked after by us. It is depending on our expectation that these positive emotions are present.

  • Relationship: The third component of joyous experience is relationships that we share with others around us. When there is complete involvement, you will see that wonderful relationships grow. You will be able to contribute to each other’s positive emotions. It builds a strong team. Then there is a synergistic action. You will be supportive of each other. Then there will be joyful involvement, and through that, you will reap the phalam,fruit of your good labour.
  • Meaning: The fourth component is meaning. Why are we involved with our work? What is our aspiration? How much ever expansive our aspiration is, to that extent, the work that we perform will be fruitful, and our anubhava also that enjoyable.

Once we were travelling in the Himalayas. Landslides are common in those regions. The loose rocks are held together by mud. When it rains,the mud becomes wet and loose and the rocks come rolling down. Then the border security forces come and they do an excellent job, clearing up the fallen rocks, in an instant. But in spite of that, when landslides happen, things are extremely uncertain. You will just have to wait. When the path is cleared, the vehicles can go again. But when it would get clear, we cannot say.

There was a landslide like this once when we were travelling to the Himalayas. I went to talk to an old woman, who was breaking rocks. She was from the local region. I asked her, “For how many years have you been doing this?”. She replied, ”I have been doing this since a very young age.” I said, “You have been doing this from a very young age. Do you like your work?”

She stopped her work and looked at me, and replied,“Sir,only if I do this, you can, along with your family, happily go and reach your home.”

Her profound reply really opened my eyes! Why was she doing this? Only if she did this,we travellers could be happy. This connection is what most people miss! With what motivation do we get involved in our work? She could have said that she was doing this to feed her children or she had nothing else to do. She did not say any of this. She could just see a higher purpose and meaning in what she was doing.

  • Achievement: In doing our work with complete involvement, with deep motivation and expansive vision, finally we have a sense of achievement. We feel that we have achieved something in life. Achievement is a very significant motivator. All these components form aspects of what we call as joy. It is not just the emotion or feeling. It is not just about feeling good. All of these matter. If you have all of this, you will see, your life is tremendously rich. Whoever comes near you, they will gain from you, bless you and leave. That is when you gain genuine appreciation, and hence, this understanding leads us to right action.

We teachers have to celebrate even small achievements of our students and ourselves. By celebration, we do not mean throwing a lavish party of course, but just acknowledging the fact that “Yes! I have been part of my student’s success and happiness in his or her life”. That pride is important to keep us motivated, otherwise we might start to feel that teaching is a thankless job. The sense of achievement is very important.

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