Positive Psychology is essential for teens dealing with low self-worth, identity, and motivation, yet this approach is often missed in treatment. At Sunrise, we have decided to do a 21 day Personal Development Plan with all our staff, students, and their families! For more detail on what we’re doing and how we’re doing it, we invite you to watch this inspirational TED talk:

“In just a 5-minute span of time, done for 21 days in a row we can actually rewire your brain, allowing your brain to work more optimistically and successfully.”

Develop Your Personal Development Plan

In the video above and in his book “The Happiness Advantage”, psychologist Shawn Achor recommends developing the following habits:

3 Gratitudes

This activity helps people “start to retain a pattern of scanning the world, looking not for the negative, but for the positive first.”  “Because we can only focus on so much at once, our brains push out those small annoyances and frustrations that used to loom large into the background.”  To get started, make a list of the good things in your life, in school, in your family, and in your career.  At the end of each day, reflect on the previous 24 hours and record three good things that happened that day.  These “good things” can be things that made you laugh, that gave you a feeling of accomplishment or something that gave you hope for the future.


“Journaling about one positive experience you’ve had over the last 24 hours, allows your brain to relive it.”  To get started, take 20 minutes, three times a week and write about a positive experience.


“Physical Activity can boost mood and enhance our performance…by improving motivation and feelings of mastery, [and] reducing stress and anxiety…”  To get started, spend 30 minutes moving.  “Walk, bike, run, play, stretch, jump rope, pogo stick–it doesn’t matter as long as you get moving.”


Studies show that in the minutes right after meditating, we experience feelings of calm and contentment, as well as heightened awareness and empathy.”  To get started, take a few minutes a day to focus on your breathing.  Watch your breath go in and out and if you find your mind drifting, just slowly bring it back to focus on your breath.

Commit Conscious Acts of Kindness

“To try this yourself, pick one day a week and make a point of committing five acts of kindness.  But if you want to reap the psychological benefit, make sure you do these things deliberately and consciously – You can’t just look back over the last 24 hours and declare your acts post hoc. (‘Oh yeah, I held the door for that guy coming out of the bank.  That was nice.’)”

Find Something to Look Forward To

“People who just thought about watching their favorite movie, actually raised their endorphins levels by 27 percent…Anticipating future rewards can actually light up the pleasure centers in your brain as much as the actual reward will.”  To get started, plan an enjoyable event and put it on your calendar.  This could be a vacation, a night out with friends or even something as simple as eating your favorite meal.  Whenever you need a boost of positivity, remind yourself about your upcoming event.

Infuse Positivity Into Your Surroundings

“One study found that spending 20 minutes outside in good weather not only boosted positive mood, but broadened thinking and improved working memory.”  Some ideas for creating positive surroundings include:

  • Get outside for 20 minutes a day
  • Avoid negative triggers.
  • Limit TV & Movie time to 30 minutes a day.
  • Substitute electronic interactions with real life relationships.  Instead of browsing Facebook, call a friend.

Spend Money (but not on stuff)

“Spending money on experiences, especially ones with other people, produces positive emotions that are both more meaningful and more lasting.”  To get started, look at your budget, contact your friends and plan an experience together.  This could be as simple as going out to eat together or going for a hike.

Exercise a Signature Strength

“Even more fulfilling than using a skill is exercising a strength of character, a trait that is deeply embedded in who we are.”  To get started, visit www.viasurvey.org and take their Character Strengths Test.  Then pick one of your signature strengths and use it in a new way each day.

On December 29-30, we did a group blitz and “kick off” for our 21-day Personal Development Plan. We held group therapy that focused on positive emotions and working toward the “Happiness Advantage. We then started our journals for the 21-day challenge on January 1 as part of a New Year’s themed kickoff. We invite anyone who is reading this to join and do your own Personal Development Plan!
By Nicole Andra, Admissions Director at Sunrise Residential Treatment Center
All quotes take from Shawn Achor’s TED Talk or his book “The Happiness Advantage”