Journal of Happiness Studies

, Volume 17, Issue 1, pp 187–211 | Cite as

A Multi-Study Examination of Well-Being Theory in College and Community Samples

  • John K. Coffey
  • Laura Wray-Lake
  • Debra Mashek
  • Brittany Branand
Research Paper


Well-being theory (WBT) proposes five indicators of well-being [i.e., positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, achievement (PERMA)] that are, independently, empirically supported predictors of flourishing (i.e., an optimal level of well-being; Seligman in Flourish: a visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. Free Press, NY, 2011). However, there is limited empirical support for the multidimensional model suggested by WBT. Two studies sought to test and validate the higher-order factor structure of the five components of PERMA and PERMA’s ability to predict concurrent and prospective flourishing outcomes (e.g., physical health, college success). In Study 1, a longitudinal examination of college students, participants completed measures of well-being (including four of the five PERMA indicators), physical health, and college success at the end of their sophomore, junior, and senior years. In Study 2, a larger, cross-sectional study was conducted online to further validate the PERMA model with a broader sample and all five PERMA indicators. Participants completed measures similar to those administered at Study 1 and other measures used to validate Study 1 measures. Results from Study 2 further validated the PERMA model by comparing Study 1 measures to established measures and by adding meaning to the model. Study 1 and Study 2 PERMA models predicted markers of well-being (e.g., vitality, life satisfaction) and flourishing (e.g., physical health). The two studies reported here provide cross-sectional and longitudinal support that WBT is useful for predicting flourishing.


Well-being theory PERMA Engagement Relationships achievement Health 



Study 1 was supported by an internal grant from Harvey Mudd College and Study 2 was supported by an internal grant from Claremont Graduate University. Gratitude is extended to the Harvey Mudd Students and Mturk workers that participated in this study, and to, Katie Nelson, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Jeanne Nakamura, Jessica Borelli, David Kyle Bond, Thomas Chann, Binghuang A. Wang, and Vicky Bouche for their assistance on this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • John K. Coffey
    • 1
  • Laura Wray-Lake
    • 2
  • Debra Mashek
    • 3
  • Brittany Branand
    • 1
  1. 1.Division of Behavioral and Organizational SciencesClaremont Graduate UniversityClaremontUSA
  2. 2.Department of Clinical and Social Sciences in PsychologyUniversity of RochesterRochesterUSA
  3. 3.Department of Humanities, Social Sciences, and ArtsHarvey Mudd CollegeClaremontUSA

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