19 Positive Psychology Exercises To Do With Clients or Students

Positive psychology exercisesHumans are hardwired to pay attention to negative experiences.

We have a propensity to attend to, learn from, and use negative information far more than positive information.

As such, many clients are unaware of what influences the happiness in their life from one day to the next. At the heart of positive psychology lies the belief that people can lead happier, more meaningful, and fulfilling lives by moving their focus away from the negative towards a more balanced perspective.

The wealth of research-based exercises available ensures that practitioners have a unique opportunity to help clients experience more pleasure, meaning, and fulfillment.

Many positive psychology exercises are considered classics – and for good reason. While activities such as gratitude journaling and loving-kindness meditation have been shown time and again to lead to positive outcomes, the goal of this article is to provide a variety of new and novel ways to include positive psychology in your work with clients.

The following exercises can be incorporated into several therapeutic settings to help your clients experience the fundamental pillars of positive psychology: the good life, the pleasant life, and the meaningful life.

Before you read on, we thought you might like to download our 3 Positive Psychology Exercises for free. These science-based exercises will explore fundamental aspects of positive psychology including strengths, values and self-compassion and will give you the tools to enhance the wellbeing of your clients, students or employees.

You can download the free PDF here.

Exercise 1: Self-Care Vision Board

Keywords: Self-care, self-compassion, creativity, inspiration
Treatment Modality: Individual clients and groups
Time: 60 minutes
Goal: To increase self-compassion through fun and playful creativity.

Self-care is the deliberate practice of activities that ‘take care’ of mental, emotional, and physical health (find 26 mental health exercises here). The ability to attend to and meet personal needs through self-care has been found to increase empathy, immunologic functioning, and has been associated with lower levels of anxiety and depression (Schure, Christopher, & Christopher, 2008).

According to Baker (2003), self-care activities also have the potential to improve self-awareness, self-regulation, coping, and balancing of self and others.

Clients should think of as many potential self-care activities as possible, making sure only to include activities they would enjoy completing and that fit with their lifestyle and values. For each activity listed, clients should then find inspiring and positive images and brainstorm words and phrases that correspond with their chosen self-care activities.

Clients can then assemble their vision board and place it in a prominent, visible location to act as a visual representation that reflects ideas for self-care and as a motivator to improve and implement self-care.

You can access a comprehensive rundown of this exercise and practical practitioner advice on the Self-Care Vision Board in the Positive Psychology Toolkit.


Exercise 2: The Guest House Poem

Keywords: Acceptance, negative emotions, mindfulness, emotional intelligence
Treatment Modality: Individual clients or groups
Time: 30 minutes
Goal: To emphasize that emotions are fleeting, and even unpleasant emotions can have value.

The Guest House poem is a method of explaining mindfulness and the importance of acknowledging and accepting unpleasant emotions. According to Eisenberg et al. (1997), emotion suppression has been associated with both psychological and physiological health detriment.

Indeed, Hayes, Pistorello, & Levin (2012) suggested that attempts to control uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, and emotions by deliberate avoidance are at the core of many psychological problems.

When clients mask their emotional experiences or try to push unpleasant emotions away, they can return amplified. However, by welcoming them as visitors, the intensity and impact of those emotions can be reduced. In the poem, being human is like being a guest house, and emotions are personified as temporary visitors that should be welcomed even if they are unpleasant.

The poem can also be used to explain to clients that emotions are not permanent residents in their guest house; instead, they are transient visitors who can be welcomed, stay for a while, and then leave.

The Guest House by Jelaluddin Rumi

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
Meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
Because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.

Reflection Questions

  • How do you interpret the poem?
  • What emotions visit you most often? Why do you think that is?
  • How might it affect you if you welcomed all your emotions rather than denying them?
  • What benefits could there be in welcoming unpleasant emotions?
  • Can you relate to the feeling described in the line “violently sweeps your house empty of its furniture”? Have you ever felt this way?
  • How might you apply the message of The Guest House to your everyday life?


Exercise 3: The Passengers on a Bus Metaphor

Keywords: Values, acceptance, emotions, self-criticism
Treatment Modality: Individual clients or groups
Time: 10 minutes for individual clients/30-40 minutes for groups
Goal: To show clients the ways in which thoughts, feelings, emotions, and memories seem to drive their lives.

Metaphors are efficient, meaningful ways to communicate about experiences and fill the experiential gap between what is or has been, and what can be (Burns, 2017). Within the therapeutic context, metaphors have the express purpose of assisting clients in reaching their goals effectively and efficiently.

The Passengers on the Bus metaphor describes the ways internal experiences seemingly drive our lives. The metaphor can be used to demonstrate the possibility of a life in which such experiences do not determine decisions; rather, they are accepted and sit in the mind temporarily like passengers on a bus.

Passengers on a Bus Metaphor
You are the driver of a bus, the bus symbolizes your mind, and your thoughts are represented by passengers. On your journey, some passengers sit quietly while others make critical and distracting comments, or shout directions as you drive.

You can choose how you react to the passengers just as you can decide how to respond to critical thoughts. You can allow those passengers to shout and chatter noisily, while still keeping your attention focused on the journey towards your goal.

The Passengers on a Bus metaphor can be reintroduced if a client experiences thoughts, feelings, or behaviors during subsequent sessions that may impede or challenge their progress. Referring to the metaphor, the practitioner might ask, “Which passenger is being intrusive and distracting?”

You can access The Passengers on the Bus Group Activity in the Positive Psychology Toolkit. Adapted for use with groups, this exercise includes details on how to best set up the exercise, three different scenarios for clients to consider, and evaluation questions.


Exercise 4: Sensory Awareness

Keywords: Positive experiences, awareness, savoring, mindfulness
Treatment Modality: Groups
Time: 45 minutes
Goal: To help clients identify experiences from which they derive pleasure, comfort, and enjoyment through each of their five senses.

Sensory awareness is more than merely responding to experiences; instead, it is engaging with – and paying attention to – current sensory information. According to Jones (2011), mindful practices nurture the ability to bring sensory experiences to the forefront of consciousness.

In doing so, space is created in the mind that allows us to stop and smell the roses. Moments of intimacy, the sound of a flowing river, the view of a dramatic landscape, or even reading a good book, can all be immensely gratifying and comforting.

Create five columns on a piece of paper, labeling each with one of the five senses: touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound. Clients should then take 15-20 minutes to think about and write down the experiences that give them pleasure through each of their senses.

On completion of this step, clients should regroup and discuss how specific experiences give them pleasure.

Reflection Questions:

  • Were you surprised by anything you thought to add to your lists?
  • Are your lists extremely long or short? Why do you think that is?
  • Which of the items on your list do you experience every day?
  • Do any experiences provide pleasure, comfort, or enjoyment in more than one category?
  • How can you increase the number of experiences that give you pleasure, comfort, and enjoyment?
  • Can you commit to experiencing at least one source of sensual pleasure from each sense every day?


Exercise 5: Positive Reminiscence

Keywords: Savoring, strengths, positive emotions, confidence building
Treatment Modality: Individual clients
Time: 5-10 minutes
Goal: To help clients cultivate positive emotions through savoring.

Savoring is the awareness of pleasure and the ability to acknowledge, appreciate, and enhance positive experiences. A complementary counterpart to coping, savoring can help clients endure negative life experiences (Bryant & Veroff, 2006). When clients learn to savor the small pleasures in life through deliberate focus, they begin to recognize and retain the good feelings associated with those experiences.

The Positive Reminiscence exercise can help clients develop the skill of savoring and build positive emotions by reliving a positive event from their past.

During the exercise, clients should take time to think about an event from their past that evokes positive emotions, visualize the event in as much detail as possible, and focus on the pleasant feelings that were experienced at the time.

The client’s focus should be on reliving the experience to increase both the duration and intensity of positive emotions.


Exercise 6: Gratitude by Mental Elimination

Keywords: Gratitude, mindfulness, awareness
Treatment Modality: Individual clients
Time: 5-15 minutes
Goal: To help clients avoid taking things for granted and increase gratitude.

According to Koo, Algoe, Wilson, & Gilbert (2008), affective states are improved to a greater extent after mentally removing positive events when compared to actively thinking about the presence of those events. Simply put, mentally deleting a positive event can help remind clients of how fortunate they are and how life could be if that event never happened.

To begin the Gratitude by Mental Elimination exercise, ask the client to think about something good in their life right now and then take a moment to imagine what life would be like without that one good thing. Clients should then write down the ways in which their life would be different without this one good thing.


Exercise 7: The Self-Compassion Pause

Keywords: Positive emotions, self-talk, self-compassion, homework
Treatment Modality: Individual clients
Time: 1-3 minutes
Goal: To create a more self-compassionate attitude and reaction in difficult times.

Clients who are high in self-compassion treat themselves with kindness and concern when they experience negative events (Batts Allen & Leary, 2010). Further, practicing self-compassion may allow clients to access positive emotions more easily and improve measures of life satisfaction, social connectedness, and subjective well-being (Leary, Tate, Adam, Allen, & Hancock, 2007).

The Self-Compassion Pause can be used as a starting point to help clients create a more self-compassionate attitude. This technique works best as a homework exercise in day-to-day encounters when clients are aware that they are experiencing some form of suffering, like stress or discomfort.

Invite clients to pause for a moment and focus on their breathing as they inhale and exhale. Next, clients should place their hands on their body – reminding themselves that while this is a difficult moment, suffering is a part of life. It can be beneficial for clients to create soothing phrases that are personal and meaningful to them, such as “I accept myself as I am” or “May I forgive myself for this mistake just as I would forgive others.”

You can find a more detailed breakdown of the Self-Compassion Pause exercise, including practical guidance and background information in the Positive Psychology Toolkit.


Exercise 8: Benefit Finding

Keywords: Resilience, positive emotions, trauma, reflection
Treatment Modality: Individual clients
Time: 10-15 minutes
Goal: To help clients focus on the positive characteristics of negative life events.

Finding positives from a traumatic event can result in a number of positive long-term effects. For instance, understanding that challenging life events can be beneficial has been shown to enhance resilience, spirituality, relationship strength, compassion, and create a new sense of purpose (Affleck & Tennen, 1996).

Invite the client to talk about a traumatic event for a few minutes, encouraging the free expression of any and all emotions and thoughts they have about the experience.

On completion of this step, the client’s attention should then be focused on the positive aspects of the experience. The practitioner may guide this step by asking questions such as, “What has the experience taught you?” and “How has the experience made you better equipped to meet similar challenges in the future?”

During this exercise, the client will be asked to recall a traumatic life event that may trigger negative thoughts and feelings. As such, it is advisable to follow the advice and guidance provided as part of the Benefit Finding exercise, which can be found in the Positive Psychology Toolkit.


Exercise 9: Strengths-based Life Story

Keywords: Strengths, meaning, and value
Treatment Modality: Individual clients and groups
Time: Clients should be allowed enough time to complete each section in detail
Goal: To help clients find meaning and value from their own experiences by exploring their strengths.

Strength estrangement is a lack of awareness of one’s strengths, or a lack of direction in using one’s strengths (Jones-Smith, 2013). Strengths-based life stories can help clients locate the source of their strengths, utilize them to achieve desired goals, and develop a sense of meaning and fulfillment.

During this activity, you will ask clients to write their life story in three parts: the past, present, and future. Clients can be creative, but it is important to emphasize that their focus should be on their strengths in each of the three sections. Upon completion, clients should share what they’ve written for each part of their life story with the rest of the group or with the practitioner.

Instructions/Writing Prompts
The Past: Write the story of your past. Be sure to describe the challenges you have overcome, and the personal strengths that allowed you to do so.

The Present: Describe your life and who you are right now. How do you differ from your past self? What are your strengths now? How have your strengths evolved? What challenges are you facing? How can you use your strengths to overcome these challenges?

The Future: Write about your ideal future. How will your life be different than it is now? How can you use your strengths to achieve this ideal future? How will your strengths grow? What kind of person do you hope to become? How will you be different than you are now? What would you like to achieve? Finally, how can you go about achieving these things?


Exercise 10: Strengths & Values-based Introductions

Keywords: Communication, values, strengths, team-building
Treatment Modality: Groups
Time: 10 minutes per client
Goal: To introduce clients to each other in a meaningful way by sharing information about their strengths and values.

The Strengths & Values-based Introductions exercise can act as a motivator and builder of trust among group members, providing clients with an opportunity to get to know one another deeply in a short amount of time.

This strengths-based approach allows clients to tell and retell their stories and, with the therapist’s guidance, reintegrate parts of the self that might have slipped from their awareness due to cognitive rigidities or relational insecurities (Rashid, 2014).

In this exercise, clients are invited to highlight their strengths and values through storytelling and to draw parallels from their story to their current life situations. In the process, clients can develop a deeper understanding of their strengths and values in the context of their narratives.

You can access the Strengths & Values-based Introductions exercise, where you will also find suggested prompts and guidance questions, advice, and methods to manage common barriers.


Exercise 11: Important, Enjoyable & Meaningful Activities

Keywords: Happiness, pleasure, meaning, homework
Treatment Modality: Individual clients or groups
Time: Dependent on activities carried out by clients
Goal: To help clients find meaning through enjoyable activities.

Meaning in life is an essential facet of psychological well-being with significant implications for both mental and physical health. According to Clarke (1991), the meaning we attribute to our lives is derived in great part through meaningful activity. Similarly, Seligman (2002) suggested that a state of happiness is attainable only through activities that are consistent with noble and meaningful purposes.

When clients focus on activities that benefit others and utilize their unique strengths, they can transcend to higher planes of authentic happiness (Seligman, 2002). In a nutshell, to find meaning in one’s life, one must first take part in meaningful activities.

In this exercise, clients are invited to complete three important, enjoyable, and meaningful activities in a single day and write about them in detail. These acts should include:

  1. A pleasurable activity carried out alone (for example, reading or listening to music)
  2. A pleasurable activity completed with others (for example, playing cards or meeting for lunch)
  3. A meaningful or important act (for example, visiting an isolated relative).


Exercise 12: Daily Motivational Awareness

Keywords: Motivation, awareness, action
Treatment Modality: Individual client
Time: 5 minutes
Goal: To help clients to develop and increase awareness of their motivation in daily life.

To begin the Daily Motivational Awareness exercise, clients should take a few moments throughout the day to think about the things that excite and motivate them to action, then write them down. In doing so, clients have the opportunity to refer back to the activity and reflect upon the extent to which their motivation is self-determined.

The exercise can also be used less formally, for instance, by asking the client to set timers a few times each day and merely doing the exercise without recording the observations.

Read More: 17 Motivation Tools, Worksheets and Activities for You and Your Clients


Exercise 13: Writing About Intensely Positive Experiences

Keywords: Reflective writing, self-reflection, happiness, homework
Treatment Modality: Individual client
Time: 5-10 minutes
Goal: To help clients improve their mood by writing about positive experiences and happy moments over three consecutive days.

Writing about intensely positive experiences can result in robust improvements in a variety of indicators of well-being. For instance, positive emotional writing has been shown to enhance positive mood, reduce state anxiety, trait anxiety, and perceived stress while also positively contributing to client coping skills (Burton & King, 2004; Isen, 2001).

Every day for three days, clients are instructed to choose a positive experience from their life, imagine themselves in that moment, and think about the feelings and emotions that they experienced. Clients should write about their experiences in as much detail as possible, paying particular attention to the positive feelings, thoughts, and emotions that were present at the time.

Here you can access the Writing About Intensely Positive Experiences exercise.


Exercise 14: The Signature Strengths Action Plan

Keywords: Strengths, goals, homework
Treatment Modality: Individual clients
Time: 30 minutes
Goal: To help clients use their signature strengths to achieve a desired goal.

Clients should take the VIA Character Strengths Survey before working on their action plan (find more positive psychology surveys here).

According to Seligman (2019), one of the most effective ways to develop and enhance signature strengths is to identify one target strength, set a specific and measurable goal related to that strength, and devise a concrete action plan to achieve the goal.

For instance, a client might select curiosity as a target strength and plan to take part in activities that challenge their existing knowledge and skills. Likewise, a client who wishes to focus on the love of learning could aim to learn five new words, including their meaning and usage each week.

Clients should pick one of their top five strengths and write down their answers to the following questions:

  • How do I use this strength already?
  • In what areas of my life do I use this strength?
  • What other areas in my life could I use it more?
  • What are other ways I could use this strength?
  • What is my plan? What exactly would I like to do? How frequently?
  • When will this happen?
  • What will happen if I achieve my goals?


Exercise 15: Finding Your Own Example of Forgiveness

Keywords: Forgiveness, benefit finding
Treatment Modality: Individual clients
Time: 20 minutes
Goal: To help clients focus on the benefits of forgiveness.

Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi (2000) identified forgiveness as a key positive individual trait. Indeed, several studies indicate that individuals with a propensity for forgiveness show signs of better physical and psychological health. For instance, Berry, Worthington, O’Connor, Parrott, & Wade (2005) found that forgiveness had beneficial effects on systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, and mean arterial pressure.

Additionally, forgiveness is negatively related to psychological distress and positively associated with life satisfaction and relationship health (Toussaint, Williams, Musick, & Everson, 2001).

To begin this exercise, invite clients to describe a story of forgiveness – this could be from a children’s story, fable, or movie plot. Clients should then explain why they think the offender committed the transgression and why the victim chose to forgive.

Ask the client to write down the ways in which the victim may have benefitted from the act of forgiveness. The client should then think about a time when they forgave someone and write down the benefits they experienced.

This exercise is adapted from Five Steps to Forgiveness: The Art and Science of Forgiving (Worthington, 2001).


Exercise 16: Colored Candy Go Around

Keywords: Communication, play, engagement
Treatment Modality: Families
Goal: To encourage communication and provide insight into individual and family dynamics.

When families engage in play-based therapeutic activities, they are provided with opportunities to communicate and articulate thoughts and feelings that they may not be comfortable expressing through traditional techniques (Lowenstein, 2010). The Colored Candy Go Around exercise (Arkell, 2010) is a playful and creative way to engage family members, particularly in the early stages of family therapy.

To begin this exercise, the practitioner should distribute 10-15 colored candies (or colored beads if this is preferred) to each family member. Each color represents a specific question, for example:

Green – What words describe yourself or your family?
Pink – What ways do you have fun as a family?
Orange – What things would you like to change about yourself or your family?
Red – What things do you worry about?
Yellow – What things do you like about your family?

Next ask family members to sort their candies by color and invite one person to pick a color at random, stating verbally how many candies of that color they have in front of them (for example, four yellow candies). This family member must then give four answers to the corresponding question; in this case, four things they like about their family.

They can then choose the next family member who will give their answer to the same question, and so on until each person has responded to all of the questions.

(Note that the questions and areas of focus can be tailored to suit each family’s needs).

Reflection Questions

  • Were you surprised by any of your family’s answers?
  • What did you learn about your family that you were not aware of before this exercise?
  • What actions will you take in the coming week to have more fun with your family?
  • What actions can you take as an individual to make changes or improvements?
  • What actions can you take as a family to make changes or improvements?

This exercise is adapted from Creative Family Therapy Techniques: Play and Art-based Activities to Assess and Treat Families (Lowenstein, 2010).


Exercise 17: Progressive Muscle Relaxation Exercise for Children

Keywords: Coping, relaxation, stress
Treatment Modality: Children and families
Time: 10 minutes
Goal: To guide young children through the process of progressive muscle relaxation.

Relaxation training can be a useful tool to help clients and patients cope with everyday stressors.

Stressful situations reflexively cause the entire skeletal musculature to react immediately, often resulting in prolonged, heightened tension, and a variety of pathological conditions (Smith, 2007).

Progressive muscle relaxation involves tensing and relaxing various muscles throughout the body as a way to reduce or eliminate tension and is an effective way to manage stress in children who may have difficulties concentrating on traditional relaxation techniques. The following exercise can be used to help guide children through the process of progressive muscle relaxation.

To begin this exercise, you should ask the child if they can think of a situation that makes them feel worried or nervous. If they are not forthcoming with a situation, the therapist can utilize prompts such as, “How about when you have a big test?” or “How about when someone shouts at you?”, and explain that these are all times when they can use this exercise.

“Let’s do this together; I’ll show you how. Start with your left hand and arm. Take a deep breath and pretend you are squeezing a lemon in your hand. Squeeze it as hard as you can. Imagine you are trying to squeeze all the juice out. [Hold for 5 seconds]. Now pretend you have dropped the lemon on the floor and think or say ‘relax.’, then let your deep breath out and unclench your fist.”

“Feel that relaxed feeling in your left hand and arm. Now, let’s tense that same muscle again.” [Repeat the same process a second time].

The therapist then guides the child through two sets of deep muscle relaxation of the following muscle groups:

  1. Right hand and arm, as above.
  2. Arms and shoulders, by stretching the arms out in front, then over the head, and finally relaxed by their side.
  3. Shoulder and neck, by pulling the shoulders up to the ears and the head down into the shoulders, like a big shrug.
  4. Jaw, by biting down hard on the teeth.
  5. Face and nose, by wrinkling the nose.
  6. Stomach, by tightening it very tight and making the stomach very hard.
  7. Legs and feet, by pushing down on the floor hard with toes spread apart.
  8. Now pretend that you’re a rag doll, and let your entire body go limp. Notice how good it feels to be relaxed.

You can modify the script to make this exercise more fun by asking the child to imagine themselves as a sleepy cat who needs to stretch his legs, or picture themselves squishing their toes deep into a muddy puddle.

This exercise was adapted from Assessing and Treating Physically Abused Children and Their Families (Kolko & Cupit Swenson, 2002).


Exercise 18: The Quicksand Anxiety Metaphor

Keywords: Acceptance, mindfulness, anxiety
Treatment Modality: Children and families
Time: 10 minutes
Goal: To illustrate the drawbacks of experiential avoidance and the benefits of acceptance and mindfulness for anxiety.

The quicksand metaphor can help clients explore their methods of coping with difficult and unchangeable situations. In doing so, they can begin to understand how their efforts to avoid or escape such experiences may result in becoming even more entangled in it (Stoddard & Afari, 2014).

Put simply, someone struggling to escape quicksand may not realize that the best course of action would be to come into full contact with the quicksand and ‘get with it’ rather than fight against it.

“You are walking in the desert and, suddenly, you step in quicksand and quickly begin to sink. What do you do now?”

You can direct the client’s attention toward his or her reactions as their story unfolds. For instance, a more experiential response can be encouraged by asking, “What happens as you try to escape the quicksand?” or “What are the thoughts that come to your mind as you keep sinking?”

After exploring the quicksand metaphor with the client, the practitioner can encourage further discussion by combining the vocabulary of both the metaphorical and actual situations. For instance, “What do you do when you start sinking in your anxiety?”

Throughout this exercise, it is preferable to avoid stating that struggling with quicksand is like struggling with anxiety – in doing so the client may learn through rules rather than through experience (Stoddard & Afari, 2014).


Exercise 19: Last Impressions

Keywords: Celebrating success, value, positive acknowledgment
Treatment Modality: Individual client and groups
Time: 5 minutes
Goal: To end sessions with clients on a positive note.

Emotional states influence the recall of experiences with similar emotional tones (Tyng, Amin, Saad, & Malik, 2017). When people are feeling positive, they tend to recall pleasant events and vice versa. Further, Redelmeier & Kahneman (1996) found that the last thing that happens in an experience tends to color the memory of the whole experience. It is therefore vital to end sessions with clients on a positive note.

According to Lasley (2015), an effective way to end sessions is by celebrating client successes – no matter how small – and acknowledging their value. To do so successfully, the practitioner must:

  1. Deliver the acknowledgment.
  2. Listen for the impact.
  3. Follow up if the client did not understand the acknowledgment or only received it partially.

To carry out this exercise, the practitioner should write a list of positive acknowledgments that can be given to clients verbally at the end of each session. While it is a good idea to make these statements specific and relevant to each of your clients, the following suggestions are a good starting point:

  • “You sound very connected to your values, and you’re honoring them fully. Well done for stepping out of your comfort zone.”
  • “You made excellent progress during the session, particularly [talk about specific insight or achievement].”
  • “Your commitment to growth is unwavering.”
  • “I want to acknowledge the way you are taking responsibility by acting on what matters most to you.”
  • “I am struck by your courage and your ability to ___.”
  • “I believe in your ability to overcome this challenge.”
  • “I feel grateful that you shared your true feelings.”


More Exercises from the Positive Psychology Blog

Check out this article, for more compassion-focused exercises to include in your work with clients.

You can find three coaching kids exercises to help young children understand their emotions and learn to solve problems positively.

Our Positive Psychology Toolkit© contains over 300 science-based positive psychology exercises, interventions, questionnaires and assessments for practitioners like you to use in your therapy, coaching or workplace.

Access a selection of positive psychology group exercises designed to increase positive feelings, behaviors, and cognitions.

This article provides an overview of five practical positive psychotherapy exercises.

For tips and exercises related to forgiveness, check out our article on the topic.

17 Positive Psychology Exercises – If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others enhance their wellbeing, this signature collection contains 17 validated positive psychology tools for practitioners. Use them to help others flourish and thrive.


A Take Home Message

As a practitioner, you have a unique opportunity to help clients experience more meaning and fulfillment in their lives. I hope that the resources included in this article will help you to promote positive changes in individual clients, families, and groups.

Have you used any of these exercises in your work with clients? Leave a comment below; we would love to hear about your experiences.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our 3 Positive Psychology Exercises for free and learn more about our Positive Psychology Toolkit©.

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  • Leary, M.R., Tate, E.B., Adam, C.E., Allen, A.B., & Hancock, J. (2007). Self-compassion and reactions to unpleasant self-relevant events: the implications of treating oneself kindly. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 887-904.
  • Lowenstein, L. (2010). Creative Family Therapy Techniques: Play, Art & Expressive Activities to Engage Children in Family Sessions. Ontario: Champion Press.
  • Park, N. (2009). Building strengths of character: Keys to positive youth development. Reclaiming Children and Youth, 18, 42-49.
  • Schure, M. B., Christopher, J., & Christopher, S. (2008). Mind–body medicine and the art of self‐care: teaching mindfulness to counseling students through yoga, meditation, and qigong. Journal of Counseling & Development, 86, 47-56.
  • Seligman, M.E.P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 55, 5–14.
  • Seligman, M. E. P. (2002). Authentic happiness: Using the new positive psychology to realize your potential for lasting fulfillment. New York: Free Press.
  • Seligman, M.E.P. (2019). Positive psychology: A personal history. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 15, 1-23.
  • Smith, J.C. (2007). The Psychology of Relaxation. In P.M. Lehrer, R.L. Woolfolk, & W.E. Sime (Eds.), Principles and Practice of Stress Management. London: The Guilford Press.
  • Smith, M., Thompson, A., Hall, L., Allen, S., & Wetherell, M. (2018). The physical and psychological health benefits of positive emotional writing: Investigating the moderating role of Type D (distressed) personality. British Journal of Health Psychology, 23, 1-15.
  • Stoddard, J.A. & Afari, N. (2014). The Big Book of ACT Metaphors. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.
  • Toussaint, L.L., Williams, D.R., Musick, M.A, Everson, S.A. (2001). Forgiveness and health: Age differences in a U.S. probability sample. Journal of Adult Development, 8, 249–257.
  • Tyng, C. M., Amin, H. U., Saad, M., & Malik, A. S. (2017). The Influences of Emotion on Learning and Memory. Frontiers in psychology, 8, 1454.
  • Worthington, E. (2001). Five Steps to Forgiveness: The Art and Science of Forgiving. UK: Crown.

About the Author

Elaine Houston, B.Sc.(Honours), is an independent business owner and Behavioral Science graduate with an honors degree from the University of Abertay, Scotland. After graduating, Elaine developed her passion for psychology through a range of avenues, focusing on consumer and small business psychology before going on to work within her local community as a learning and development officer. When she isn’t working, Elaine enjoys exploring creative outlets such as painting, drawing, and photography.


  1. Nasra Al Adawi

    Dear Elaine
    Wow this is something, I have been using the guest house a lot for poetry therapy session as an ice breaker and now to see that it is here as template to be used , so I feel I’m in write path…

  2. sarah

    I like having ideas with instructions. I really think the Self-Compassion pause will be useful with my students who have issues with handling emotions.

  3. Pedro Cortez Jr

    Your understanding is critical to showing anyone how to coach and to plan progressive activity and the making of specific process goals. Selecting goals or activities based on what a person can easily accomplish is a natural critical factor in the successful completion of short and long term goals. Completion of a simple task or activity incorporates a positive use of energy that does not allow it to be used to reinforce stress, interference or the negative reinforcement cycles and spirals of complex impulsive and compulsive behaviors. Simple and complex positive and negative situations alike demand that energy be used in a positive way in order to cause positive activity, effects, behaviors and products. It is a critical factor that is reinforced by the habitual use of specific positive process goals and activities that affect and insure the success of short and long term goals. It is essential to use a natural therapeutic strategy for habitually using energy in a positive way. Reinforcing and maintaining success in everyday situations demands and requires that any stress, interference and the negative reinforcement that they cause be handled by a natural positive intervention. Using specific process goals and activity that are easily accomplished use energy in a positive way and do not allow energy to be used in a negative way. Thanks for your understanding.

  4. Todd

    This is a very good article. I liked number 5, Positive Reminiscence, number 15, Finding Your Own Example of Forgiveness, and number 17, Progressive Muscle Relaxation Exercises for Children. These will be fun to try with some of my students, but I also look forward to using some of them with myself and family.

  5. Anees

    Physical activity is very important for the health of adults and children. Here is the list of top 10 best and fun exercises to do with kids at home.
    Physical workout is always fun and sharing that movement of entertainment with your kids is even better. Followed that routine at home with the little one and enjoy it together. Physical activity is extremely important for good health, and not only in adults. The boys must also be on the move.

  6. Todd

    I very much enjoyed reading through these strategies. I liked #2 Guest House Poem, #3 Passengers on the Bus, #6 Gratitude by Mental Elimination, and #14 Finding Your Own Example of Forgiveness to be the most interesting. I would like to try a few with my students.

    • Nicole Celestine

      Hi Todd,
      That’s fantastic that you’re thinking of trying these exercises with your students. If you’d like some other practical exercises and worksheets, we outline some more in this article if you’re interested.
      – Nicole | Community Manager

  7. Susie

    This is a great list of resources. I found #3 The Passengers on a Bus Metaphor, #4 Sensory Awareness, #5 Positive Reminiscence, #6 Gratitude by Mental Elimination, #9 Benefit Finding, and #11 Important, Enjoyable and Meaningful Activities to be ones that could work in my elementary setting.

  8. Julie Chadwick

    I can see where these exercises would be beneficial in a clinical setting but are not practical in an elementary art classroom. Number five, Positive Reminiscence, might be possible done as a drawing and I think would be a good way for students to share their positive emotions.

  9. Jessica Straczowski

    I wish I still would teach Health Education at secondary level. I could try out many of these great exercises. However, I work with cognitive impaired students that for one would not be able to
    understand the questions or tasks even when simplified. The students that would have the mental capacity to understand the task are extremely traumatized and have severe behavior problems. They are all in therapy,counseling, and work with our social worker. All kinds of outside agencies are involved in their lives. I would not feel comfortable to do these exercises with them. In some of exercises it states “the practitioner” or “therapist”; I would like to caution for teachers to take on roles that they are not really trained for.

  10. Miss Belle

    Thanks a lot! These are all helpful!

  11. Linda

    Great ideas-very practical and helpful. Thanks so much.

  12. Mixail

    Great worki i wanted to thank you for explaining some positive psychology exercises!!!

  13. Teoremen F. Rendon

    How much is the tool cost? Is there any way to purchase not through credit card? I don’t have it. Thanks.

  14. Taylor Bishop

    I wanted to thank you for explaining some positive psychology exercises. I had no idea that thinking of their best possible self can help increase someone’s optimism in expecting favorable outcomes. This sounds like it could be really useful to someone that wants to have a more optimistic view in their life.

  15. Fatemeebrahimi

    That was grate . I want to translate this exercises to persion.
    Can you guide me?

  16. Nelson

    this is awesome. im glad for the intense knowledge I have acquired

  17. Deniz

    Thank you great work.
    Is there any way to have a look at the content of the toolkit beforeordering it?

  18. CC

    Thank you!

  19. Reema

    Awesome.thanku for sharing.They are very useful for work n self.
    God bless you.

  20. Drew Griffiths

    Did a ‘quick version’ of the top 3 exercises, feel much better…thanks!

  21. Sam

    Hi there! Are these exercises public domain? 🙂 or can I only use them privately?

  22. Nathalie Blais

    Thank you for offering such great exercises to your readers. I am familiar with many, although your spin on them is a pleasant twist that I see will be very impactful. I have found great value in your site as a source of supplemental reading and validation of my practice.

    • Jessie van den Heuvel

      Thank you for your lovely comment Nathalie ?

  23. srCatherine Chacko

    As I get more and more materials I am amazed to see the riches unwrapped in it.

  24. keith riley

    I’m taking a positive psychology class and I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around this concept.

  25. Laly

    Strength Wheel is really useful and thank you so much Seph

  26. gangbang

    Very soon this web site will be famous amid all blog people,
    due to it’s good posts

  27. Ansari

    Dear seph
    I am from India, and whether the pp toolkit is available here?

  28. Sayeda Shahida Begum

    Unveiling the cycle of thoughts and emotions and three minute breathing space…are almost the same writing!!!what’s the difference between these?what’s the necessity of describing the same technique in the two pints!!!???

  29. Sayeda Shahida Begum

    Thank you for writing such effective techniques of Positive Pssychology in structural way.

  30. Sayeda Shahida Begum

    Thank you for writing such effective techniques of Positive Psychology

  31. Reham Al Taher

    Wow! That’s great 🙂 Thank you so much for stopping by.

  32. Mary Anna Wright

    I’d love to find out more about your tool kit

    • Seph Fontane Pennock

      Hey there Mary Anna,
      Thank you so much for getting in touch. You’ll find out more about the toolkit here.
      Pre-ordering is possible as of today!
      Let me know if you have any questions.

  33. Vanda do Nascimento

    Hello to all and especially to Seph, who makes a very good work here! How i wish my english was better to enjoy more of the information that you have here and, who nose, share some of mine (But i cant because i dont explain myself well ..
    Once again, CONGRATULATIONS! This is very, very important! I love to know more tips about techniques and their benefits. So, iam not very useful for you but you are always for me!
    Big hug to all!

  34. Mireille Pellegrini Petit

    Hi Seph, could I also pre order the PP practitioner’s toolkit? How do I go about doing this?

    • Seph Fontane Pennock

      Just sent you an e-mail Mireille. If anyone else is interested in the PP toolkit, please get in touch by sending an e-mail to info@positivepsychologyprogram.com

  35. Judy Krings

    Terrific resources and so easy to use with clients. Well done! I will forward to my students in the positive psychology course I am teaching for MentorCoach. Many thanks!

    • Seph Fontane Pennock

      You’re most welcome Judy!

      • Judy Krings

        My pleasure, Seph. Your applications absolutely take positive psychology to the applications-lined well-being streets of our world. I particularly liked that you included a discussion of self-determination. Empowering!

      • Adele

        Thank you very much for sharing this! Forwarded to our Mapp group as well!

        • Seph Fontane Pennock

          Thank you Adele – glad you like the resource!

  36. Birender Ahluwalia

    How can i get the resource pack?

    • Seph Fontane Pennock

      Hi Birender. We will be launching the ‘Positive Psychology Practitioner’s Toolkit’ this month. It’s going to be very exciting. It’s basically a collection of all of the PP interventions, assessments, questionnaires, course programs, client intake forms, etc. as PDF’s put together into one user-friendly database. It will be updated with new files all the time and the price is going to be $144 a year. Some have pre-ordered it already. Can I count you in? 🙂

  37. Clive Leach

    Very useful reminder of some effective interventions would love to see the resource pack!

    • Seph Fontane Pennock

      Hi there Clive,
      Please check out my reply to Birender’s comment. The same goes for you if you’re interested!
      Let me know.

      • zahra

        hey can i use these exercises in session plan as i am doing research in
        positive psychology interventions?

        • Nicole Celestine

          Hi Zahra,

          Yes, go ahead!

          – Nicole | Community Manager


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