Achieving Wellbeing and Happiness: Military Leadership using Somatic Intelligence and PERMA

Achieving Wellbeing and Happiness: Military Leadership using Somatic Intelligence and PERMA


When a person commits to serve in the military, he or she often has goals-conscious and unconscious. The conscious goals can be obvious: one's sense of duty to protect and serve one's country, provide for family members, receive educational benefits, or to travel the world. The unconscious goals could include a desire to be a part of a group or to feel needed. Whether these goals are conscious or unconscious, service members, as humans, seek to achieve balance, wellbeing, and happiness.  Nevertheless, the conflicting message that the service members receive throughout their careers is that they must surrender their sense of self, and put duty above all personal goals.

Is this all-encompassing expectation realistic? Could such selfless sacrifice be a contributing factor in the rates of divorce, suicide, post-traumatic stress, and the low retention that the military services continue to experience? 

The first purpose of this blog is to present ideas that will help military leaders to encourage service members to self-reflect by utilizing their body’s Somatic Intelligence, as proposed by Dr. Risa Kaparo. This will help them to determine where they are as individuals who are seeking to achieve wellbeing in the broader military system and within society.  The second blog purpose, is to encourage leaders to help service members realign, restructure, and recommit to themselves based upon this somatic intelligence and Positive Emotions; Engagement; Relationships; Meaning; and Accomplishments (PERMA) as proposed by Dr. Martin Seligman (University of Pennsylvania, 2018b).


What is Somatic Intelligence?

Dr. Risa Kaparo describes the body as being a central portal, a finely tuned feedback instrument that facilitates learning by unfolding innate universal intelligence about our interconnectedness and oneness.  This awareness or tuning into the body's innate ability to teach us about ourselves and the collective ‘We’ is referred to as

Somatic Intelligence.

What is PERMA?

Dr. Seligman’s PERMA Model consists of measurable and teachable elements that make up a person's wellbeing and contributes to their perceived happiness.

Positive Emotions are "optimistic emotions that help us to view the past, present, and future in a positive perspective" (Positive Psychology, 2017).

Engagement means involving oneself in activities that one can become fully absorbed into.  This state, according to Seligman, is referred to as being in

‘the flow’ or blissful immersion into a task or activity (Positive Psychology, 2017).

Relationships are about being a part of positive relationships with others.

Meaning is when one's work is connected with one's higher purpose and a need to have a positive impact on society. 

Accomplishments concerns setting SMART goals and accomplishing them (Positive Psychology, 2017).

A person's PERMA can be measured via a free Authentic Happiness Questionnaire (University of Pennsylvania, 2018a). Metrics that measure wellbeing are becoming important tools that show how well a country is doing/performing economically and socially. "Many things of value in life cannot be fully captured by GDP, but they can be measured by metrics of health, education, political freedom, and the like" (Fox, 2012, para 14).


How Does PERMA and Somatic Intelligence Relate to Leading Military Service Members?

First, it is critical that leaders in the military understand that service members have personal and professional goals that will need to be balanced for them to feel ‘well' holistically. Further, they must create a work culture/environment that encourages and supports self-awareness and discovery as well as PERMA.  This will empower service members to create “a life that is worth living” and permit them to build upon their signature strengths.


Secondly, military leadership must remember, that at this time in American history, military service is voluntary. Therefore, they must compete with other employers to recruit and retain employee talent. As (Callahan, 2015) noted, "Recruitment and retention efforts may need to evolve in response to changes in the operational environment and generational expectations” (para 3). Millennial and Xennial generations are accustomed to choosing who they will work for and often choose to work for themselves when they find their work unfulfilling.

Finally, military leaders need to appeal to the Meaning aspect of PERMA by honoring and supporting current and potential service members' need to connect to a calling that is bigger than themselves.  As Callahan (2015) notes, “[Leaders must] recognize that service members’ calls for improvement come from some of our core values as Americans” (para.2). When viewing this 'Meaning' through the lens of the broader context of Somatic Intelligence, leaders have the potential to create, within the organization, loyalty while allowing for levels of individual autonomy.  In other words, it grants service members the freedom to understand their role both inside/outside of the organization, instead of seeing themselves as a society apart. The service member should not have to reject themselves or society to be a part of the military.


Service members will always be torn between the dichotomy that exists between Selfless Service and the need to take care of themselves. Military leaders can continue to facilitate movements towards positive wellbeing through PERMA and Somatic Intelligence via initiatives such as the United States Army’s Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness (CSF2) program which strives to teach "resilience skills in order to increase resilience and enhance the performance of Soldiers, Family of Soldiers, and Department of the Army Civilians” (University of Pennsylvania, 2018c, para.1)

Such efforts may help the military to recruit and retain service members, as well as increase morale, positive wellbeing, readiness, and resilience. Having some level of autonomy in their lives may even help service members to make clear decisions based on commander's intent in times of war and peace.  Perhaps, the body's Somatic Intelligence, coupled with a service member's skills and training may facilitate in making the right decisions in their personal and professional lives.



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Linthicum, D, (May 2013).  The Individual "I" versus the collective "we". Retrieved from



Paul, K.K (February 2018) Americans in this field have the highest divorce rates  after 30. Retrieved from



Positive Psychology Program. (2017). The PERMA model: The scientific theory of happiness. Retrieved from


Sahmri Wellbeing and Resilience Center (2015). Prof Seligman on PERMA. Retrieved from


Rubin, R. S. (2002). Will the real SMART goals, please stand up? Retrieved from


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US Department of Veterans Affairs (2014) What is PTSD? Retrieved from


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University of Michigan. (October 2011).  What makes life worth living. Retrieved from         


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University of Pennsylvania Trustees (2018b).  Authentic happiness: Positive psychology theory. Retrieved from


University of Pennsylvania. (2018c). Resilience training for the US Army: Comprehensive soldier and family fitness.  Retrieved from


About the Author

Maria A. Regester



Journal of Leadership Studies-Symposium Piece-Relational Leadership: Perspectives of Key Constructs on Diversity, Inclusion, and Social Equity in Higher Education

Psychology Today
Blog Posts Published


American Psychological Association Conference-Utilizing Clinical Hypnotherapeutic Intervention with CBT to Treat Pandemic-Aug. 13-2021 Symptomology

ILA Conference Geneva Switzerland 2021
Presenter -Topic-"The Stress Arc in Leadership and 3 Powerful Disciplines for Mitigating Major Stress Impacts in a New Era"-Upcoming
Presenter -Topic-“Improving Higher Education’s Role in Diversity and Social Equity through Relational Leadership in the New Era”-Upcoming
Presenter-Topic-"Healthcare Leadership-Using Virtuous Leadership in Chaos to Reimagine Beneficial Practices of Employee Cognitive Psychology"-Upcoming
2021-Knowledge Without Boundaries National Summit-College of Doctoral Studies Research Conference-University of Phoenix-Panel Discussion-"Exploring Emergent Trends in Leadership and Education"-Based on published symposia article from the Journal of Leadership Studies-


Maria A. Regester
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