As I sat at the dining room table and puttered, got frustrated, developed new ideas, and thoroughly enjoyed myself, I remembered how much I missed being creative when my boys were little. I never had time for a full project from start to finish. There wasn't enough time to organize my supplies, much less organize my thoughts. And then, even if I did manage to get my creative juices flowing, I'd be constantly interrupted. I couldn't finish what I had started and, by the time I could get back to what I had been working on, my momentum and inspiration were gone.
Back then, with the help of a couples counselor, my husband, Bill, and I carved out one morning a week when I had the house to myself. At first, I thought I needed this time to not be needed. Time to rest without a little one needing a snack. Time to think without thinking about everything that needed to be done. Time to just be without having to do. Time when all the care that went into managing the family, house, and business could go into caring for me for a little while.
After resting during my "me mornings" for a few months, my creative inspiration returned. During my three precious hours each week, I refinished bar stools in the kitchen, sewed pillow covers for the couch and love seat, got out my jewelry supplies and started designing and making jewelry again. Once a week, I'd wave goodbye to my family as Bill backed the car out of the driveway and then I'd spend the next three hours completely absorbed.
What had been missing was a big part of what made me feel like me, not only my creativity but the time when I felt completely lost in what I was doing. I found my happiness in the feeling of flow.
I had learned about the flow state in college classes but hadn’t realized its importance to my happiness until I lost the time to be engaged in flow, and then found it again. The awareness of how I felt without flow compared to my happiness while in flow changed how I managed my time, and what activities I filled my time with.
A Model for Well-Being
Years later, in my life coach training, I learned about the PERMA model of well-being, developed by the founder of the Positive Psychology movement, Martin Seligman. Seligman’s model includes five buckets – Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Achievement – that comprise how we create a well-balanced life.
Seligman recommends that you become aware of how you create your happy life, how you distribute your time and energy into the five PERMA buckets, noticing when you feel unbalanced – like when there’s too much time in Achievement, meeting a goal at work, for example – and using the PERMA model to recognize how to redistribute your time, energy, and attention back to what feels better.
Here’s a description of each of the PERMA categories:
• Positive Emotions - Making room in your life for what makes you feel good. Creating positive emotions, like contentment, peace, happiness, pleasure, joy, and excitement through what you do and by feeling optimistic.
• Engagement - Having opportunities to get into what psychologist and author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls flow: becoming so absorbed in an activity that you lose sense of time.
• Relationships - Spending time and committing to relationships that sustain and fulfill you.
• Meaning - Creating opportunities that matter to you. Focusing your attention on matters that are greater than yourself.
• Accomplishment - Working on activities and projects that give you a sense of achievement. Setting and achieving goals.
Everyone is different with how they distribute their “units of happiness" into the five buckets. If you have a strong drive to succeed at work, you might have more happy points in the Achievement bucket. Or maybe you find joy in helping others in your community, so when you allocate more time toward activities that bring Meaning in your life, you feel happier.
Making the PERMA Model Work For You
Here’s an exercise so you can do to see how this works.
• Download this handout of the PERMA buckets.
• Now, count out 20 small items – like pennies, M&Ms, Cheerios, goldfish crackers … These items will be your “units of happiness.”
• Think about a time in your life when your life felt balanced, when you felt happy.
• As you think about that time, imagine how many units of happiness were going into each of the PERMA buckets. Distribute your 20 small items into the five different categories.
• Make a note of your PERMA well-balanced score on the lines under the PERMA circles.
• Move your units of happiness out of the way and think about your life as it is right now. How do you allocate your 20 bits of happiness? Where are you putting your most time and your most energy regularly?
• Write your current PERMA score underneath your well-balanced score.
Maybe there’s a disparity between your Meaning scores. If your best balanced time came when you were volunteering each week for a cause you felt passionate about, you might feel happier now by adding more meaning into your life. What tiny, beautiful thing can you do to create more purpose in your life right now?
You might see a big difference between your Positive Emotions scores. Perhaps there aren’t many options right now to create positive emotions; you’re too busy or too overwhelmed. Rick Hanson, psychologist and author of Hardwiring Happiness, says that recalling positive experiences from the past has the same positive benefit on the brain as creating new ones. Take 30 seconds once or twice a day to re-experience a positive memory, diving deep into your recollection of the event to make it vivid in your mind, allowing the positive emotions warm you up from the inside out.
For me, creating more well-being in my life right now means finding time for more Engagement. My craft project on Saturday helped raise my happiness quite a bit and I'm marking off time in my calendar for more creative endeavors. I'm delighted with my linked test tube vases. They turned out a lot like how I see my happiness and well-being: wonderfully imperfect and a bit wobbly, needing my attention to make sure they're balanced just right.
The Well-Crafted Mom's gathering for mothers this month is focused on finding, losing, and returning to balance again and again. The mini-retreats are made up of small groups of lovely moms who come together for conversation, compassion, and creativity. To save your spot in the Wednesday evening or Saturday mini-retreat, register here.