How to Have a PERMA-Vacation!

If you clicked this link because you thought I would teach how to have a “PERMANENT” vacation, then you misunderstood.  But what I’m offering you is even better.

PERMA is the acronym described by Martin Seligman, one of the top researchers in positive psychology, for the ingredients of a flourishing life:

Positive emotions—experiencing happiness, joy, hope, love, gratitude, etc.

Engagement—using strengths to meet challenges; a sense of being blissfully absorbed in what one is doing.

Relationships—connecting with others; loving and being loved

Meaning and purpose—feeling that life has meaning and connecting to one’s purpose

Accomplishment and achievement—accomplishing goals; experiencing success

Seligman calls these the crucial elements of wellbeing.  Each one of these things is pursued for its own sake almost universally across cultures.  And each of these things, at least theoretically, can be measured scientifically.  So we can use these 5 pillars to measure flourishing in people (Seligman has said his goal is to see 51% of the world flourishing by 2051.)

In my work in the hospitality industry, I use these principles of positive psychology (among others) to think about how we can create hotel and spa experiences that help our guests to flourish while traveling.  In other words, I try to deliver experiences that contribute to PERMA for our customers.

I was excited recently when I discovered a book by Rod Cuthbert (who works in the hospitality industry) and Sebastian Filep (a tourist behavior researcher,) who also looked at using the PERMA model of flourishing to create “vacation rules” for great travel experiences.  But unlike me, who is looking at this from the hospitality industry perspective, Cuthbert and Filep think about it from the consumer perspective.

In other words, how can travelers make better decisions about their own travel experiences so that they maximize the impact of their vacations on their personal wellbeing?  There are several things that I like about using these principles to make vacation decisions:

  • Research shows that people, if left to their own devices, are very poor at predicting what will make them happy.
  • An example of this is “duration neglect.”  While most people think a longer vacation would make us happier than a shorter one, research suggests that the duration is not as important as the “peak” moments of the experience, and then how the vacation ends (so as the authors suggest, you should make sure your vacation ends on a high note!)
  • Because of these biases, the common strategy of thinking only about duration and anticipated happiness is likely to steer us wrong.  We need to think more carefully about creating travel experiences that will lead to a flourishing life.

Maldives Fesdu: neighboring island  33.1378.14
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Juergen Kurlvink via Compfight

As Cuthbert  and Filep explain, considering the PERMA model can help to guide us along the way.  In the book, they give tips or “rules” for your next vacation.  For example:

P– “Perform random acts of kindness for locals and other travelers to boost your positive emotions.”  Helping others will make you feel good.
E– “Do less. Enjoy more.”  Rather than trying to see and do everything on a complex itinerary, slow down and immerse yourself in whatever you are doing.
R– Don’t underestimate the importance of relationships in travel.  As Cuthbert says, “who you travel with matters more than where you go.”  (I can relate to this since my wife and I basically solidified our relationship by coming together during a horrible misadventure-filled trip to South Africa.)
M– “Know why you’re going.” Make your travel meaningful.
A– “Do something you’ve never done before.” Travel is all about breaking routines and experiencing, learning or accomplishing something new.

The book (a kindle e-book that costs less than $5) has dozens of these rules.  A worthwhile investment when planning your next “flourishing” PERMA-vacation.

References and recommended reading:

Cuthbert, R. & Filep, S. (2013).  Vacation Rules. VR Publishing.


by Jeremy McCarthy

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E-book available:  The Psychology of Spas and Wellbeing.

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6 Responses to How to Have a PERMA-Vacation!

  1. Mari Carmen Silva-Baker April 16, 2013 at 10:27 am #

    Wonderful article, now I am going to have better vacations.

  2. Michelle Maffey April 18, 2013 at 9:08 am #

    Thanks for the tips…our 15th and possible final trip to Legoland (season passes expire in June) will be even better… 🙂 Maybe those three free tickets I have I will just give away to someone who is standing in line to pay for their entrance fee to the park, just might make their vacation better too.

  3. Jeremy McCarthy April 18, 2013 at 4:59 pm #

    Thanks Michelle, we are very excited as they just opened a Legoland here in Yonkers! Maybe you can get some more PERMA watching this with the kids: xo, J

  4. Judy Krings April 22, 2013 at 7:10 am #

    Right up my alley, Jeremy. Traveling with your strengths, powering up positivity, and being mindful along the way.

    Chris Peterson is smiling in Heaven. You do his memory proud.

    May all your journeys be joyful.

  5. Jeremy McCarthy April 23, 2013 at 5:54 pm #

    Judy, I imagine that your whole life is like a PERMA-vacation!

  6. Susie April 25, 2013 at 5:29 am #

    What a brilliant concept! Love it. I agree sometimes people just don’t make the best of things. I always go on holiday expecting to enjoy things. And the last part A is particularly important for refreshing your body mind and soul. Don’t waste the experience just sitting by the pool all the time experience new things.

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