How PERMA Theory Could Be Applicable to Holding Religious Beliefs

Is it possible that religious beliefs and values give people a more fulfilling life through PERMA theory?

Recommended reading before this article: “The Power of Positive Psychology”: https://theinquisitivemind.home.blog/2019/08/12/the-power-of-positive-psychology/

As I have mentioned in the above post, I am a huge advocate of positive psychology for its far reaching applications towards a more fulfilling life. To quickly summarize, it is an acronym that stands for positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment. Each component, according to the theory, is a psychological need that each person should strive to gratify in their lives. There are an infinite number of ways that this can be accomplished, but common ways that people seek fulfillment in these are through their work, school, extracurricular activities, family relationships, hobbies, etc..

What I would like to write about specifically today, however, is the potential for these psychological needs to be fulfilled through ideas related to practicing a religion. This particularly appeals to me due to my recent conversion to the Catholic faith. The point of this post, however, is not to impose my own religious beliefs onto you readers, but instead discuss religious practices in general and how they could tie into PERMA theory. I will discuss each component and how religious beliefs of any kind could potentially give meaning and fulfillment to somebody’s life.

Positive Emotions: When people think of positive emotions, they associate the meaning with feelings such as joy, gratitude, hope, inspiration, awe, and love. Typically, these feelings occur between interactions of people. With religious beliefs, however, the person could also outpour and receive these emotions between the relationship they have with their deity or deities. For example, giving thanks routinely through prayer and outwardly demonstrating love to God could give people the opportunity to experience these emotions at any time they please.

Engagement: Religious beliefs and rituals give people an opportunity to seek engagement and potentially experience what Marty Seligman describes as “flow”, whether that be through ceremonies, playing music, leading groups, dancing, or countless other activities. People engaging in these activities have the opportunity to use their strengths and talents to the best of their abilities in an effort to receive the reward that is obtained from experiencing “flow”. (A link will be provided at the end of the post if you would like to read more about this).

Relationships: Having meaningful and deep relationships with people gives us more meaning in life because it gives us the opportunity to experience positive emotions such as love, gratitude, kindness, inspiration, etc… Believing in God gives an individual the opportunity to create a relationship that knows everything about them, including their needs, goals, fears, strengths, weaknesses, and endless other characteristics of the person. It is also a relationship that never leaves them if they believe in it. Essentially, a belief in God is pretty much like a best friend who never leaves them, which would make for a very strong relationship. These are all reasons why a relationship with God relates to this component of PERMA theory and could lead to a more fulfilling life.

Meaning: Asking a question like “What is the meaning of life” will probably be met with eye-rolling from another person because they don’t have time to get into a deep philosophical debate about why they exist or what it is that they are supposed to do with their lives. This is surprising considering that meaning is a component that Seligman identifies as part of his theory. When hard pressed, people may state that they find meaning in something like the work that they do, or serving justice, or advancing knowledge, or providing for a family, just to name a few examples. With religious beliefs, however, the answer becomes much more straightforward. It is probably along the lines of “I do it for God” or because “I am being called to do this”. These are ways in which religious beliefs can give a clear sense of meaning and fulfillment to a person.

Accomplishment: Finally, a person may feel a strong sense of accomplishment by practicing a religion. For example, going to a religious service or saying a prayer could contribute to feelings of accomplishment for the day. Doing acts of kindness for the sake of God and other people could make the individual feel more accomplished that day as well. Finally, doing an activity like a daily reading or practicing a talent like music for God could make the individual experience feelings of accomplishment.

In conclusion, as I also stated in “The Power of Positive Psychology” post, PERMA theory is very interesting and has far reaching applications. Each application is used to see how an individual can feel that they are living a meaningful and fulfilling life. Religious beliefs are a really interesting case to analyze using PERMA theory and considering how it could help these individuals. I think it would be really interesting to hear what you guys have to say about this, so definitely comment below if you feel like you have something to contribute. Thanks for sticking it out through this post!

A great link on PERMA Theory (which also describes “flow”, mentioned in the “Engagement” part):

https://ppc.sas.upenn.edu/learn-more/perma-theory-well-being-and-perma-workshops

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