Project Happiness

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Project Happiness: Spreading happiness, empathy and resilience through classrooms and communities

Palo AltoPalo Alto
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
$250,000 - $500,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

With anxiety, school violence and teen suicide on the rise, we all need skills that foster resilience, emotional intelligence and empathy. PH teaches kids to be happy and strong from the inside. Our programs cultivate these skills in youth, their families and communities, so all can thrive.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if educating a child’s heart and their brain could create a better world for all?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Isolation, fear, competition, and lack of purpose plague our youth. In the past 5 years, 3.22 million kids, 7-17, were treated for depression. With epidemic levels of suicide, aggression, low self-esteem, and low-graduation rates, children are at risk of a viral social and emotional health crisis, which will spread if its root causes go unaddressed. We must provide a holistic continuum of proven resources at all levels to be effective.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

PH designs its programs to activate systemic change. Using film, curricula and community involvement, PH integrates neuroscience, positive psychology and mindfulness to stimulate and grow empathy. We do this for a continuum of developmental levels. How it works: 1) PH partners with schools, groups, community leaders; 2) A school or community shows the PH film to foster engagement; 3) Students engage in the SEL+ curriculum; 4) Their parents do the SEL+ homework; 5) Communities implement Circles of Happiness. “I have seen aggressive acting out reduced, as students practice the skills of empathy, appreciation and nonviolence.” “The project not only helped the kids and the teachers, it's helped the whole community–that’s very powerful.”
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Imagine Sofia. At 5, she's adjusting to kindergarten; at 8, when her dog dies, she deals with it; at 9 she learns how to recognize her inner meanie and inner friend, and to support herself especially when facing challenges. At 10, some girls in her class are mean to her. She can shift her perspective to have empathy for the bullies, and help others to do the same. But all kids are not this lucky. This project started in a personal way when one child suffered greatly as she was bullied. At that time there were no programs to help her - it was wrenching. That child was my daughter. Today, with PH, there are tools in place, and students & adults are learning to: pause before reacting, respond with resilience, and initiate positive change.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

PH SEL+ curriculum is used in schools in 87 countries. Locally, it is present in 77 schools in the 5 service area counties. In a pilot study involving 13 classrooms, 88% of teachers said that PH increased students’ SEL; 85% of teachers reported that PH strengthened their emotional resilience; and 74% saw positive effects on student’s academic competencies. 44% of students would recommend PH to friends and other students. For one study in Mexico City, using our program, where kids ranging from 4-16 years attended weekly meetings for 1 year, data showed that 55% have improved their grades, 100% have more confidence in themselves and 78% reported having a greater sense of community. Student comments: “Before PH I could not control my anger, now I can control it much better.” “I learned how to make other people around me feel happier and safer in a world.” “PH saved my life.”

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

PH is committed to building partnerships to activate empathy, resilience and pro-social change across schools, families and communities locally and globally. Our curriculum is in 87 countries and now we seek to densely integrate it into schools in our 5-county area as a replicable blueprint for scaling. At the local level, we plan to influence policy related to SEL in schools. On the community front, we plan to scale the Circles of Happiness program, which has in-person and online components. We also plan to develop a mobile app that will provide an adapted SEL program for the wider population

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

PH thrives with the help of committed long-term donors, revenues from curriculum & teacher trainings, film & book sales, as well as support from pro bono services & volunteers. We are committed to providing the curriculum on a sliding payment scale, with a pay it forward feature, while seeking grants, hosting events & launching crowd-funding campaigns. WellBeingNOW is our new paid workshop for lifelong learners and a freemium app is in the works.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Of the several agencies offering SEL curriculum in schools, most generally focus on one or two sub-populations. Committee For Children, e.g., a giant in the field, focuses mostly on children. In contrast, PH, collaborating with diverse partners, implements its programs holistically, along a spectrum of developmental levels, for pre-school students to adults. Our SEL+ programs offer systemic community impact and adapt well for diverse global audiences. Also, PH positions its school curriculum on a sliding payment scale with a ‘pay it forward’ feature; most other SEL programs are fixed in price.

Founding Story

When my daughter told me, “Mom, I want to be happy, but I don’t know how,” I ached to help her. After speaking with experts about depression and bullying, I was shocked to learn that the World Health Organization predicts depression to be the number 2 cause of suffering for all ages by 2020. I felt compelled to do something that could teach empathy, gratitude and forgiveness to kids everywhere, so produced the award winning “Project Happiness” Documentary, which led to the “Project Happiness Handbook” a compilation of the best of positive psychology, mindfulness and neuroscience. I wanted these resources available for all, so I took on a team of educators to create the educational curriculum, now used throughout the world in 82 countries.


PH staff, board, and advisory council include leaders and practitioners in the fields of education, wellness, business, communications, neuroscience, and technology. Our team, including a committed cohort of volunteers and pro-bono professionals, is based in Palo Alto, with regional directors in Mexico and Nigeria. We plan to grow our team in the areas of outreach and development and include a community liaison for the 5-county area.
About You
Project Happiness
About You
First Name


Last Name


About Your Project
Organization Name

Project Happiness

How long has your organization been operating?

Organization Country

United States, CA, Palo Alto

Country where this project is creating social impact

United States

What awards or honors has the project received?
Funding: How is your project financial supported?

Friends and family, Individuals, Customers.

Supplemental Information
On which of the following California counties does your project focus its impact? (check all that apply):

San Benito, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, Monterey.

How does your idea help cultivate empathy skills to strengthen communities and equip young people to become leaders of change?

Project Happiness (PH) is grounded in empathy. PH equips youth, parents and community members with a continuum of tools to address roots of discontent, manage emotions, build resilience, cultivate acceptance, foster gratitude, identify strengths, and share their gifts, culminating in a call for action to create positive lasting change. Innovative lessons and activities allow for empathy to blossom and leaders to emerge. Our curriculum goes beyond other Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) programs by integrating research in neuroscience, mindfulness and positive psychology. Extending SEL at family, community and systemic levels, our programs build empathy in small groups, helping individuals connect with each other and their communities.


To partner with organizations that work with in-school or after-school programs as well as with foster and at-risk youth.


PH is committed to offering its extended SEL (SEL+) curriculum and programs free to schools and other organizations.

Tell us about your partnerships

PH’s partnerships serve to leverage impact. Kiwanis Int’l, known to build leaders, is integrating PH’s leadership program in 5,000 Key Club high school programs, with 53 clubs in the local 5-county area.

Family Connections, a community level organization, has initiated a program with PH in 3 preschools offering parent-child classes tuition-free to over 80 low-income families in E. Palo Alto, Redwood City and Bell Haven community in Menlo Park.


Schools are challenged by empathy scarcity, shrinking budgets and teacher time shortages. In response, we offer our SEL+ curriculum to all. This is on a sliding payment scale, and can be implemented during school hours, after-school and soon on mobile apps, further reducing teacher time needed.
PH’s Circles of Happiness, an SEL+ program adapted for the community, faces dissemination challenges. In response, we will use online platforms, in person meetups, and our fast-growing social network (260K on Facebook). We’ll also connect to and leverage sustainable partners who share our vision.

Does your project use any of the following approaches to cultivate community members as empathetic and collaborative leaders?

encouraging philanthropy, creating a safe space, developing emotional competency, building leadership skills, group play, storytelling, collective problem-solving, identifying shared values and differences, instilling courage, enabling action.

Target Age Group(s)

3-5, 6-12, 13-17, 18-35, 36-64, 65+.


Holly Light's picture

Project Happiness is doing such important work! I was moved by your founding story. Specifically, how in the process of helping your daughter, you recognized a deeper need within the community and marshaled resources to extend help more broadly. This is a compelling example of "case to cause."

Could you please share a bit more about your outreach/engagement process? What strategies have you found helpful for partnering with schools? Once you are working with a school, how do you recruit student participants? Additionally, it sounds as though parental buy-in and support is central to a student's success. What has worked well for Project Happiness with respect to engaging parents and supporting them during the program?

Thank you in advance for your feedback. I look forward to your thoughts.

Holly Light