Positive Affectivity

Beyond Happiness: Positive Affectivity and Sustainable Wellbeing.

The PERMA model structures the five essential elements of sustainable wellbeing. These are: Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment. And, of course, we need a positive approach to our physical health. Let’s look at positive affectivity within the context of the PERMA model.

Sustainable wellbeing is an on-going issue. And there is a wealth of evidence-based insight to support us. This page considers positive affectivity. Explore what this means for you and pick up some useful tips for a happier life. For practical purposes, positive affectivity sits within the positive emotions pillar of the PERMA model. Working on this area can improve our general happiness. In turn, this makes it easier to work on the rest. Additionally, intentional actions can be implemented quickly – getting a personal development program off to a great start.

Understanding positive affectivity involves understanding the interplay of genetic factors, environmental circumstances, and intentional activities. Research led by Sonja Lyubomirsky has identified the relative influence of these factors: valuable insight for sustainable wellbeing.


Genetic Factors

Genetic factors are responsible for 30-40% of our overall positive affectivity. This acts as a stabilising influence – often referred to as ‘the Happiness Setpoint. Our genes also shape our personality traits, notably the ‘Big Five Personality Traits.’ These are extraversion, neuroticism, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and openness. Each of the ‘Big Five Personality Traits’ is its own spectrum. We all have our own preferred spot on each. Extraversion is a key player as it impacts on happiness levels. The other traits contribute to satisfaction in relationships, work, and coping with stress. This doesn’t mean, however that only extraverts can be happy. Next, we’ll consider our environmental circumstances.


Environmental Circumstances

Environmental circumstances are also a significant influence. This group of factors encompasses supportive relationships, financial stability, education, employment, religious engagement, leisure activities, health, freedom, and a pleasant living environment. For those making their way in the world, balancing financial security with meaningful leisure activities becomes crucial. The Easterlin Paradox suggests that increased wealth – beyond our normal quality of life – doesn’t always translate to increased happiness or sustainable wellbeing.

Religious practice, often overlooked, offers a structured belief system, social support, healthier lifestyles, and positive emotions through practices like prayer and meditation. This can be particularly relevant for individuals seeking a sense of purpose and community. For us agnostics, we can easily translate this in to developing our own spirituality without alignment to any organised belief system.

Leisure activities, including sports, arts, and volunteering, play a vital role in fulfilling needs for autonomy, mastery, meaning, affiliation, and detachment. For those navigating demanding careers, finding joy in leisure can act as a valuable counterbalance to work pressures. This takes on an new dimension when we consider applying our signature strengths to our every-day lives.

Adaptability and happiness become essential, particularly for individuals managing the demands of work and family life. Freedom and a pleasant living environment contribute significantly to subjective well-being. Societies supporting economic, political, and personal freedom, along with access to green spaces and panoramic views, tend to foster more cohesive societies: within which, individuals have better chances of flourishing.

Gender and age nuances show a U-shaped trajectory of well-being across the life cycle. Understanding these trends can help individuals in their 30s and 40s to navigate the challenges of middle age. This influence is at its most negative through our 30’s and then turns increasingly positive from our 40’s onwards. NB this elements’ influence is low, and there are so many other factors that can counterbalance any negative influences from this one.

Our environmental circumstances – combined – contribute to only around 10% to our long-lasting happiness. We can’t do anything about our genetic legacy: accounting for 40-50% of our positive affectivity. We can influence the circumstances of our life which account for a further approximately 10%. This brings us to the key take-away from this article.


Beyond happiness: positive affectivity and sustainable wellbeing


Intentional Activities

Our intentional activities – which we can control or, at the very least, have a degree of influence over – account for 40-50 % of our positive affectivity. Pause for a moment. Reflect on this conclusion. Notice your reactions.

This leads us naturally to ask – so how can I use this insight to help develop my sustainable wellbeing?

The answers will vary between us – we’re all walking our own paths. We can find them by systematically working our way through the PERMA model and the wealth of insight Wellbeing Psychology has to offer. In no particular, these general approaches will deliver the most returns:

  • Allocate time for meaningful connections with loved ones
  • Consciously engage in activities that align with your personal values
  • Create a well-defined balance between work and leisure
  • Foster intentional moments of deep relaxation
  • Periodically reassess and adapt your goals
  • Acknowledge your accomplishments

By weaving intentional activities into our everyday routines, we can intrinsically strengthen our wellbeing while juggling life’s on-going demands.

So now, equipped with this insight, ask yourself: what will I do, today, to apply my new insight to develop and sustain my wellbeing?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, comments, and success stories – you can post them in the comments or email me directly.

You can also find more articles supporting your personal development here: 5 Minute Life Hacks for Wellbeing


Beyond Happiness: Positive Affectivity and sustainable wellbeing

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