How do I improve my quality of life?

Quality of life is your overall perception of how well you’re able to satisfy your personal goals and values. It’s also a major concern for over 30% of Warfighters and their partners. While military life might present some challenges that can impact things that you have little control over (for example, high operational tempo), there’s still a lot you can do to enhance your quality of life. When stress is high, it’s easy to get sucked into “get things done” mode, where you move from task to task and spend little time enjoying what you’re doing. Still, there are ways to look at your day-to-day tasks and think about how you can get more out of what you already do. In addition, you can learn how to better prioritize those things that best enhance your quality of life.


Are you living a life or a to-do list?


Make a PERMA to-do list

You likely have some type of to-do list that helps you keep track of what you need to accomplish daily. A PERMA to-do list is an extra column on your typical to-do list that helps you reflect on how each task can enhance your quality of life. PERMA is a common theory of well-being that categorizes what makes life worth living into 5 building blocks.

  • Positive emotion is about experiencing feelings such as love, gratitude, awe, pride, or joy.
  • Engagement means being deeply interested and invested in what you’re doing. This includes where you’re growing, learning, and developing new resources. When you’re truly engaged, it feels like you’re doing something for a few minutes, then you look at the clock and realize it’s actually been hours.
  • Relationships reflect sharing love, showing support, and understanding others.
  • Meaning is about being a part of something bigger than yourself. It’s about connecting to a community, purpose or cause, higher power, or greater good. Your quality of life improves when you clearly understand your values and why you do what you do.
  • Accomplishment means working towards your goals for career advancement, personal ambitions, or hobbies.

Many items on your current to-do list likely already build one or more aspects of PERMA. It can be hard to be fully aware of how each task enhances your quality of life. So, taking a few seconds to connect each to-do task to one of the PERMA building blocks can help you be more mindful of its value. Or it can help you to adapt the task to include ways to build PERMA. Ask yourself the following questions to help see how each task can improve your quality of life.


  • Positive emotion: What can be fun or exciting about this?
  • Engagement: What can I learn? How can I grow or improve?
  • Relationships: Who can I connect with? How does this help those I care about?
  • Meaning: What makes this important? Why am I doing this? How does this serve a greater purpose?
  • Accomplishments: How does this help me get closer to reaching my goals?

 

To-do PERMA
Do laundry R – Helps my kids feel confident in clean clothes
Finish report M & A – Highlights the work my unit has achieved to keep our country safe
Take daughter to basketball practice R & P – Gives us one-on-one time to talk, and I get to listen to the music I like on the way home

Now instead of a day just driving around, doing household chores, and finishing dull work assignments—you connected with your daughter, enjoyed your favorite songs, helped promote the hard work your unit has put in, and boosted your kids’ confidence. Keep in mind adding a PERMA column prior to performing a task can also help you look forward to the activities ahead. When Warfighters feel they get to do things that are meaningful, interesting, and exciting, they’re tougher and more resilient. They have greater well-being too.

Which tasks should make the cut?

The last way to use PERMA is to reevaluate what deserves to be on your to-do list and rank things in order of importance. Take a minute to ask yourself the following questions.


What means the most to you in the world? What do you value more than anything else?


Now think back over the past week. How often did you actually write down a task related to what you just answered? If you find that you rarely write down what means the most to you, perhaps you need to prioritize those things that most enhance your quality of life. Don’t leave it to chance that you spend quality time each day with your family or work towards a goal on your bucket list. Make “quality time” #1 on your list and be sure to check it off each day! And if there’s a task that you spend a lot of time on, but can’t connect it to something that enhances your quality of life, consider moving it down the list or even taking it off. It’s easy to push the most important things to “tomorrow’s” to-do list in favor of tasks that you feel you need to get done today. However, if you’re not careful, tomorrow becomes a week, a month, a year, or even longer.

Bottom line

Time is limited, and there are a lot of things in life you have to do. But how you do them and what you get out of them is up to you. Are you going to live your life or a to-do list?

References

Bryan, C. J., Elder, W. B., McNaughton-Cassill, M., Osman, A., Hernandez, A. M., & Allison, S. (2013). Meaning in life, emotional distress, suicidal ideation, and life functioning in an active duty military sample. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 8(5), 444–452. doi:10.1080/17439760.2013.823557

Butler, J., & Kern, M. L. (2016). The PERMA-Profiler: A brief multidimensional measure of flourishing. International Journal of Wellbeing, 6(3), 1–48. doi:10.5502/ijw.v6i3.526

Krauss, S. W., Russell, D. W., Kazman, J. B., Russell, C. A., Schuler, E. R., & Deuster, P. A. (2019). Longitudinal effects of deployment, recency of return, and hardiness on mental health symptoms in U.S. Army combat medics. Traumatology, 25(3), 216–224. doi:10.1037/trm0000173

Seligman, M. (2018). PERMA and the building blocks of well-being. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 13(4), 333–335. doi:10.1080/17439760.2018.1437466

Sonethavilay, H., Maury, R. V., Hurwitz, J. L., Uveges, R. L., Akin, J. L., Coster, J. L. D., & Strong, J. D. (2018). 2018 Blue Star Families Military Family Lifestyle Survey. Retrieved February 6, 2020 from https://bluestarfam.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/2018MFLS-ComprehensiveReport-DIGITAL-FINAL.pdf