P2 News

Fostering Resilience: How The Positivity Project Supports Dr. Haidt’s Vision

By Jeff Bryan

Earlier this month, I traveled to California and New York, where I met with teachers, principals, and district superintendents. During these visits, I had insightful conversations with a California county superintendent overseeing 300+ schools and a New York district superintendent of four schools. Both superintendents had copies of Dr. Jonathan Haidt’s newest book, The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood Is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness, and asked if I had heard of it. I told them I had and shared that, at The Positivity Project, we have been immersed in Dr. Haidt’s work since our founding, drawing inspiration from his earlier books like The Happiness Hypothesis, The Righteous Mind, and The Coddling of The American Mind. Haidt was also one of 40 contributors to the 800-page book Character Strengths and Virtues, which outlines the positive psychology principles that form the foundation of our work.

Dr. Haidt’s latest book discusses how the shift from a play-based childhood to a phone-based childhood has led to a surge in anxiety and depression among adolescents. He describes this shift as the “Great Rewiring of Childhood,” which has disrupted the natural process of learning the skills needed for success. As Haidt explains in the book:

  • “Childhood is an apprenticeship for learning the skills needed for success in one’s culture.”
  • Letting kids learn to “develop social skills, overcome anxiety, and become self-governing young adults” is essential.
  • “Just as the immune system must be exposed to germs, and trees must be exposed to wind, children require exposure to setbacks, failures, shocks, and stumbles in order to develop strength and self-reliance.”

At The Positivity Project (P2), we are committed to addressing these challenges head-on by empowering students to build positive relationships and become their best selves.

The Positivity Project focuses on character and relationships.

Taking Action Steps: The Positivity Project’s Approach

Research-Based Foundation: Positive Psychology’s Character Strengths

The Positivity Project’s mission is to empower students to build positive relationships and become their best selves. We are grounded in positive psychology’s 24 character strengths. These strengths, ranging from bravery and perseverance to integrity and gratitude, are detailed in the 800-page book Character Strengths and Virtues co-authored by Drs. Chris Peterson and Martin Seligman. Rather than ignoring the negative, our focus is on helping students overcome life’s inevitable adversities. This research-based foundation is critical in fostering resilience and emotional stability in our youth.


Addressing Social Deprivation

Haidt identifies social deprivation as a significant harm to children’s mental health, resulting from less face-to-face interaction and more screen time. The Positivity Project counters this by fostering positive relationships through character strengths education. By emphasizing the importance of character and relationships, we help schools build a supportive community where students feel understood by — and connected to — other people.

Example from a Partner School:P2 helps students be more aware of their strengths and weaknesses and practice being good citizens. Many students feel more valued and heard in class, which allows them to share their thoughts and learn more. It gives students a chance to solve problems independently and build positive relationships with classmates they may not have interacted with before. This has helped build a more positive classroom community.”

Research: This anecdote is supported by a peer-reviewed study in the International Journal of Education, which found that P2 Partner School students reported significantly greater feelings of having quality relationships with others. When asked to name their favorite part of P2, the most frequent response was, “It makes me feel understood.” Research shows that a student’s sense of relatedness is vital to academic motivation and social development.

I can sum up positive psychology in just three words – other people matter. Period. Anything that builds relationships between and among people is going to make you happy.” – Dr. Chris Peterson

The Other People Mindset. Positivity Project.

Reducing Attention Fragmentation

P2 includes daily lessons focused on character and relationships. These structured lessons meaningfully engage students, promoting sustained attention and focus on other people’s strengths to help build interpersonal relationships. By integrating these practices into the school day — such as through morning meetings, collaborative projects, and dedicated reflection times — P2 helps mitigate attention fragmentation caused by constant digital interruptions. 

Inspired by Dr. Peterson’s summation of positive psychology as “other people matter,” students are encouraged to use the Other People Mindset – and to practice active listening, empathy, and reflection. This not only improves students’ focus, but also fosters a deeper sense of community and belonging in the classroom. P2’s approach ensures that students develop the skills necessary to maintain attention toward other people and form meaningful connections despite the pervasive distractions of the digital age.

Example from a Partner School: “The Positivity Project’s focus on character strengths such as kindness, perspective, and perseverance resonate deeply with our first graders. They actively point out when they see these strengths in stories or when a classmate displays them. This practice reinforces the strengths in a meaningful context and helps children internalize these values…

“The Positivity Project at Shrevewood Elementary has had a profound and far-reaching impact on our first graders. It has enriched their vocabulary, fostered a positive and supportive classroom environment, improved communication skills, and promoted character development. By recognizing and celebrating positive behaviors, we build a strong school community where students and staff feel valued and motivated. The project has truly made a difference, laying the foundation for our students to become empathetic, resilient, and successful individuals.”

Encouraging Unsupervised Play and Independence

Haidt argues that children need more opportunities for unsupervised play and independence to develop resilience and self-governance. As we often explain, character strengths aren’t about ignoring the negative. Instead, they help us overcome life’s inevitable adversities. P2 integrates character strengths like perseverance, bravery, and self-control, encouraging students to apply these strengths in various aspects of their lives, including play and independent activities. This helps them develop coping skills and emotional stability.

Reflections from Students: During J.M. McKenney Middle School’s end-of-year ceremony, a student council president advised her classmates, “Do something every day that scares you.” This sentiment was echoed by many students who shared their experiences at a Positivity Project assembly. One student emphasized the importance of bravery in overcoming challenges, while another highlighted how perseverance and perspective helped navigate difficult times. These reflections demonstrate how character strengths foster resilience and self-governance among students.

Social Learning and Peer-to-Peer Impact

In the book, Haidt highlights the profound influence of social learning during adolescence. He writes, “When a child starts at a new school, she is particularly likely to do whatever it is that most children seem to be doing,” describing this phenomenon as “conformity attraction.” This concept underscores how children learn expected behaviors by observing their peers. Additionally, Haidt discusses “prestige bias,” which “motivates them to copy whoever seems to be the most accomplished and prestigious.” The sensitive period for cultural learning, spanning roughly ages 9 to 15, is crucial — as Haidt explains, “lessons learned and identities formed in these years are likely to imprint, or stick, more than at other ages.”

This is why fostering a positive school culture – grounded in character and relationships – is so important.

Example from a Partner School: “One of the unique strengths of The Positivity Project is its peer-to-peer impact. Middle school students learn not just from teachers but also from each other. Through collaborative activities and discussions, they reinforce positive behaviors, creating a culture where kindness and empathy become the norm rather than the exception.”

Smartphones and time spent with friends. Positivity Project and Financial Times.

Impact of Smartphones and Social Media

Haidt highlights that the rise of smartphones and social media has significantly increased loneliness among adolescents by reducing the time they spend in face-to-face interactions. P2 addresses this by creating opportunities for students to engage in meaningful, in-person relationships. By focusing on building positive relationships and a strong school community, we help counteract the isolating effects of digital technology.

Through P2’s Other People Mindset elements, which focus specifically on relationship-building, students are reminded to “Be Present and Give Others Their Attention.” For example, during P2’s annual calendar, students focus on being present for an entire week — and are also reminded of this throughout the year. This element is crucial in today’s world, where distractions like phone calls, text messages, emails, and social media notifications can pull us away from the present moment and our relationships.

Story from a Partner School: A high school Dean of Students noted, “The ‘being present’ character strength has been used by teachers to help mitigate cell phone usage and keep students engaged. This helps explain to students why anti-social behavior is unacceptable in school and society.”


Drs. Haidt and Twenge. Loneliness research. The Positivity Project focuses on relationships.

In a paper published in “The Journal of Adolescence” by Drs. Haidt and Twenge, they report that in 36 out of 37 countries, loneliness at school has increased since 2012.

Supporting Emotional Stability and Maturity

By consistently teaching students about the character strengths that everyone possesses, P2 enhances their self-awareness, empathy, and appreciation of others. This focus on character and relationships fosters a positive school culture, reduces behavior problems, and supports the development of mature, emotionally stable adults. Our emphasis on the habitual practice of these strengths ensures that students internalize them, promoting long-term emotional stability and resilience.

P2 Impact: When character and relationships are part of the school vocabulary, culture improves. And, with improved culture comes improved behavior.

Read the peer-reviewed journal article “Character Education to Address Students’ Emotional and Behavioral Development: A Quasi Experimental Study.” As the abstract explains, “Results indicated that compared to a control group, students experiencing the P2 program demonstrated significantly greater reductions in their externalizing and internalizing behaviors.”

Read this post to understand how a school went from 1,672 referable incidents to 116. Watch this video to see how an elementary school went from 143 total days suspended to 9.

And, note that these character strengths aren’t practiced only in school, but also at home. As teachers explained, “Parents have noticed the difference The Positivity Project makes as well. They report that their children talk about the character strengths at home and strive to demonstrate them outside of school. This extension of learning into the home environment reinforces the positive behaviors and attitudes being taught at school, creating a cohesive support system for the children.”

ESSA Tier 2 Evidence-Based Intervention

P2 meets the criteria for a Tier 2 evidence-based intervention under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This designation means that P2 is supported by evidence from well-designed and well-implemented quasi-experimental studies. These studies demonstrate P2’s efficacy in improving students’ emotional and behavioral development, as well as their sense of relatedness. You can read the peer-reviewed journal articles about P2’s efficacy below.

  • “Character Education to Address Elementary Students’ Emotional and Behavioral Development: A Quasi-Experimental Study” in the International Journal of Education. Full article here.
  • “Character Education to Improve Students’ Sense of Relatedness” in the International Journal of Education. Full article here. Summary of article here.
  • “Positivity in Action: Character Education through the Positivity Project” in the International Journal of Emerging Trends in Social Sciences. Full article here.


Dr. Jonathan Haidt’s The Anxious Generation highlights the urgent need for actionable solutions to improve our children’s mental health. The Positivity Project stands ready to meet this challenge with our research-based, ESSA Tier 2 evidence-based approach. P2 helps students become mature, emotionally stable adults equipped to navigate life’s challenges by fostering positive relationships that are grounded in character strengths. 

Call to Action: For superintendents and school leaders looking to implement meaningful change, I invite you to explore how The Positivity Project can transform your school culture. Join us in empowering students to thrive by developing their competence, character, and relationships.

Jeff Bryan
CEO and Co-Founder of The Positivity Project

Jeff Bryan is the CEO and Co-Founder of The Positivity Project. In this role, he leads the organization to support educators to empower their students to build positive relationships and become their best selves.