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The 5 Building Blocks of Happiness

The 5 Building Blocks of Happiness

The driving force behind what I do with Hound Town is first and foremost my mission to spread happiness, it sounds simple, and it is, but I believe it really adds to the world (if only in a small way, that's okay).

Second to happiness, I want my work to inspire, encourage, teach and connect. Everything I put out will tick one or more of these boxes - Hound Town is here to put goodness out into the world, I want to enrich your life in small but meaningful ways. 

blue skateboarding cartoon dog

Could you do with some more happiness in your life?

I'm always seeking to learn more about happiness and well-being and I want to share key learnings I find with you - so it might help cultivate a little more happiness in your life and others' lives too.

Today I want to share the 5 building blocks of happiness. 5 areas we can bring to our attention and add back into our toolkit to help us live happier more fulfilled lives. It's known as the PERMA model, an acronym which stands for:

P - Positive emotions

E - Engagement

R - Relationships

M - Meaning

A - Achievement.

Infographic with the acronym PERMA down the left, colourful cartoon illustrations of dogs accompany each word which read as follows P for Positive emotions - Feeling good, E for engagement - Flow State, R for Relationships - Connection and Community, M for Meaning - Purpose, A for Achievement - Accomplishment

PERMA is a well-being theory developed by positive psychologist Martin Seligman and while there are still many more factors that go into happiness, today I'm going to expand on the key components he outlines in his theory.


1. Positive Emotions - FEELING GOOD

Make sure you have plenty of positive emotions in your life. These include things like joy, peace, gratitude, humour, satisfaction, pleasure, inspiration, hope, contentment, curiosity, and love. 

two labradors one riding a bike towing the other in a carrier, two longboard surfboards on the side and a starfish along for the ride, a watercolour illustration by Clare Duffy

Take a moment to think about what activities, people, pets, places or events give you enjoyment and make you feel good. Make a list and see what you could perhaps bring into your everyday or do more of in general. For example, if you love nature, could you get a plant for your office desk?

One thing to keep in mind - sometimes small pleasures like eating some chocolate can bring happiness but it is relatively short-lived when compared to enjoyment that comes from something more intellectually or physically stimulating like an activity that involves some challenge - some examples: going for a bike ride, taking a pottery class, or reading a good book. There is room for both of course - so do it all (but maybe don't overdo the chocolate).

a cartoon of a man wearing a green tshirt hugging an orange kelpie cattle dog with its tail wagging and little love hearts rising above

Did you know? A number of studies have shown that when you hug your dog you both get a surge of the feel-good hormone oxytocin - what a great way to add another positive emotion to your day! And make our doggos that little bit happier too. 

Here is a little zine I made of little (and big) things that bring happiness. Download yours to print here. To assemble follow this video. This makes a cute little gift to accompany a card too! or help lift someone whose having a hard time - go on, spread a little bit of happy.

 An illustrated zine flipping through from the cover which reads A Pocket Full of Happy through a road trip and campfire scene with dogs instead of people, a beach surfing scene, a house scene and a walking in the park scene

2. Engagement - FLOW STATE

When you're so engaged in an activity that you lose track of time you're experiencing what is called a state of flow. When we're in flow the noise of our over-thinking brain quietens down. You're intensely focused on the present and it feels good!

 a silky terrier making spaghetti with all the machinery and two starfish friends helping in the illustration style of Clare Duffy using her signature colour palette of pastel pink yellow and blue

You can achieve a flow state at work (I know I do! Maybe that's why I've always found work enjoyable?!) but it's even better if you can seek it out in a hobby or activity that you love. Intentionally make space and time for an activity you feel engaged in each week! (I personally put it in my calendar each week and make an effort to ensure I follow through).

If you're not sure, have a little brainstorm - I love mind maps, like this little one below. You can even find some ideas in there for yourself that could spark reminders of when you've felt in flow.

a mind map of flow states with a kelpie dog holding a ball in the middle, the list includes DIY Projects, sewing, drawing, gardening, gaming, reading, painting, cooking, playing a musical instrument, team sports, writing, dancing, solving puzzles, yoga, swimming, hiking, cleaning

Drawing and colouring-in are good ways to get into a flow-state, try it out - you can download and print one of my illustrations in black and white to colour-in here.

This is what you'll be colouring in:

black and white colour in page of a scene incorporating 3 holiday style buildings including a motel and a palm springs inspired apartment, dogs fill the scene surfing, skating, lounging and flying


Positive relationships are one of the keys to long-term happiness and nurturing them is an important building block to our well-being. 

a pool party dog scene by Clare Duffy watercolour illustration with dog holding a polaroid and another wearing gucci while a dj and party happens in the background around a swimming pool

I started a gratitude practice at the beginning of the year which includes gratitudes at the beginning of the day and noting one positive experience from the day in the evening.

The interesting thing I discovered was that those positive experiences were largely from an interaction with a person whether that was a stranger or a friend. We are social animals, even if we are introverted, human connection brightens and enriches our life.

What you can do:

  • strengthen existing relationships - make time, meet up regularly
  • get to know an acquaintance better - I've been making an effort to ask different friends I haven't spent much time with for coffee once a week or fortnight
  • reach out to someone you haven't connected with in a while, it can just be a text!
  • join a group or a class that interests you
  • show genuine interest in people - ask questions!

two pink cartoon cavoodles one licking the other ones face, digital illustration by Clare Duffy


4. Meaning - PURPOSE

Contributing to something greater than ourselves brings a special kind of life satisfaction.

Having meaning or a purpose in life is different for everyone and is largely guided by our personal values. Here are a few (and it can be a combination too!):

  • Through career - working for something greater than you as an individual
  • Family - starting a family gives purpose like no other
  • Community - contributing to a collective
  • Through a creative endeavour
  • Caring for the environment or animals
  • A social cause
  • A spiritual belief
  • Volunteer work
  • Giving back

We can create purpose in many areas of our lives. People who live with purpose report to live longer healthier lives with greater satisfaction and happiness.

Find your why. Maybe it's a dog... just saying.

 sharpe dog in a caravan with the text Get a Dog! Get a life! in the corner, illustrated in the cartoon style of Clare Duffy

5. Achievement - ACCOMPLISHMENT

The final building block is a sense of accomplishment in reaching a goal, or completing something you set out to do. This could be learning a new skill, developing an existing one, or doing something outside your comfort zone. Whichever it is, big or small, achievement contributes to our overall happiness.

daisy the blue dalmatian surfing a pink wave her friends cheering in the background and a starfish hanging ten, watercolour artwork by Clare Duffy

In terms of accomplishing a new skill, you may have heard about the 10 000 hour rule to get good at anything - but this is to an expert level. We can in fact become reasonably good at anything in around 20 hours. So if there's something you've always wanted to try you only need 20 hours of focused, deliberate practice and you can be relatively competent at that thing. This means that even a month from now you can have accomplished a new skill (and if you like it then keep going!).

Another great thing to do is to reflect on your past achievements. Sometimes it's all too easy to focus on what we haven't accomplished and we forget to celebrate and find satisfaction in what we have already achieved. Celebrate your wins!


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