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Eudaimonia with Mathematics

Think of mathematics? Think of your feelings of accomplishment? Do these two thoughts overlap?

In this regard, Martin Seligman, University of Pennsylvania psychologist, has written the book Flourish. It's focus is eudaimonia, a Greek term for "well-being" or "flourishing." Though not mentioned in his book, his ideas fit well with the doing/learning/teaching of mathematics.

Seligman defines five crucial elements of "well-being," encapsulated by the acronym PERMA:

  • Positive emotion
  • Engagement (i.e. feeling of being "lost" in a task)
  • Relationships
  • Meaning
  • Accomplishment
Each of these elements needs to be pursued for their own sake. Yet, Seligman notes that one's measure of "well-being" is based on his/her sense of "earned success" for the elements individually and collectively

I see strong connections between the ideas underlying eudaimonia and learning mathematics. But, unfortunately, I think most measures would register in the negative range. That is, too many students do not have any aspect of PERMA!

What to do? Consider each element of PERMA and find ways to help students "flourish" and build their overall eudaimonia! In fact, math teachers can improve their own eudaimonia by setting up a personal plan.

Source: Adapted from J. Tierney's "A New Gauge to See What's Beyond Happiness,"NYT, 5/17/2011