9 Session Plan Ideas Inspired by International Day of Happiness (March 20)

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Written by Amaya Stamm

I came across International Day of Happiness while seeking out unusual themes for session plans this month, so here I have shared some of my intervention ideas appropriate for a variety of client ages and addressing several goal areas!

Older Adults

On the Sunny Side of the Street

With lyrics about keeping a positive mindset and an upbeat tempo, this tune is perfect for moving and grooving with older adults! Consider using a recording of the song through a speaker so that you are free to model the movements for the group and engage in closer proximity with each individual. Creating movements that match the lyrics of the song is a great way to keep things interesting for clients and to musically reinforce their movements. 

Some movement ideas I have used are: 

  • legs stepping “down the street,”
  •  tapping your shoulders “like you are putting on your coat,” 
  • tipping your imaginary “hat” to a neighbor, 
  • swaying arms from side-to-side “of the street,” and 
  • stretching arms up and down like sun rays shining down.

If needed, place the song on an automatic repeat and fade out the audio when the movements are finished. As a facilitator, one can also use the structure of the verses to dictate when to switch between movements.

Sunny Side

It’s a Lovely Day Today

To promote reminiscence and memory recall, rewrite the verses of this song individually or as a group by replacing the word “lovely” with various weather words: sunny, snowy, breezy, rainy, etc. I created a weather and activity visual to provide additional choice-making support. I asked each client, “What do you like to do on a (type of weather) day?” and filled their answer into the next line: “I’d be so happy to be (activity) with you!”. Since I facilitated one verse per group member, I chose to string together a few of their responses before singing the final unaltered lines to the verse with the group.


It’s a (weather) day today

So whatever you’d like to do

I’d be so happy to be (activity) with you


It’s a sunny day today

So whatever you’d like to do

I’d be so happy to be picnicking with you

Adaptations or other intervention ideas:

  1. Music and movement: Use body movements to act out the group’s chosen activities in the rewrite.
  2. Reminiscence: Ask the group questions about a day they felt happy or a person they would choose to spend a happy day with.

To create this choice board, I printed and laminated images of different weather and activity choices and used velcro tape to attach them to two laminated pieces of construction paper. This gave the choice boards a 3-dimensional element and allowed me to remove the options to reuse with other activities.

Lovely Day

Blue Skies

Recently, I have used this song as a shaker activity with clients to recall colors of the rainbow. After singing the song, I will go around the room and ask what color shaker each person has. I will usually ask the group who else has a shaker in a matching color and then I sing “______ skies” rewritten with the color of their shaker. After repeating this for each color, I will sing a “rainbow skies” verse to incorporate everyone.

To extend this intervention, add in different colored items to this song’s lyrics to stretch the group’s imagination! Prompt clients to name the colors of the rainbow first and then think of an item for each color (red roses, orange carrots,yellow sunshine, etc.). Alternatively, prompt clients to “scat” or repeat short, improvised melodic phrases in a call-and-response style.

School Age Children and Adolescents

Can’t Stop the Feeling (with rewritten lyrics)

This rewrite of the prechorus and chorus of a popular song for kids and teens can be adapted to fit several movements. The structure of free movement in the prechorus followed by specific movements in the chorus provides opportunities for following directions as well as client choice. Additionally, adding client names into song lyrics positively reinforces their participation and keeps their attention on the activity. There are many ways to adapt this song, including using scarves, shakers, or free body movements, or playing with the idea of starting and stopping the movement when the music starts and stops. To practice turn-taking, the MT-BC could insert their name and a chosen movement and insert the client’s name with their chosen movement the next round.


Nothing I can see but (client name) when he/she (movement)

I’m moving right along with you so just (movement), come on

Go (client name) go, he/she keeps on (movement)

And (client name) sure ain’t stopping soon so keep shaking

Can’t stop the feeling, so just (movement) x2


And every session when (client) moves

(client name) lights up the room

When the music starts you already know

He/she’s gonna move it, gonna move it, gonna move it!”



This is a great song to address motor and emotional goals! To address motor goals, simply replace the word “clap” in the chorus with any other movement word relevant to the client or group objectives. To address emotional goals, I altered an activity I learned from my co-intern, Maddie, to create affirmation style lyrics. 

Because I’m ______, ______ along if you feel like a _________

Because I’m _____, ____ along if you feel like _____ is the truth

Because I’m ______, ______ along if you know what _____ is to you

Because I’m _____, _____ along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do

One example I created is:

Because I’m strong, persevere along if you feel like an unstoppable force

Because I’m beautiful, walk along if you feel like confidence is the truth

Because I’m kind, care along if you know what love is to you

Because I’m smart, learn along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do

This format can be repeated or be kept as is depending on how many affirmations the client comes up with. Additionally, based on the client’s creativity and vulnerability when discussing emotions, I might change the amount of blanks in the song or create a theme to structure the song around. For example, I might rewrite all the lines to say “Because I’m (adjective), clap along if you feel like a/an (animal)” and match each attribute with a different animal. This makes the rewrite more accessible for younger clients or clients who prefer concrete imagery.

Mental Health

Groove Pizza Improvisation

For this activity, I used the free online resource Groove Pizza to create an improvisational beat with a client based on different emotions. To begin, I introduced the client to the Groove Pizza website, which allows users to create beats or grooves by adjusting the timbre, the number of beats per each of the three layers, the tempo, dynamics, and amount of swing. 

groove pizza

After providing space for creative exploration, I introduced a three-tiered emotion wheel and prompted the client to choose an emotion to improvise around; one of my clients chose “confident.” Since this particular session was on zoom, I asked the client which attributes of the beat I should change first and then followed their lead to create a beat they felt embodied this emotion. This can be followed up with open-ended questions similar to those used in lyric analysis, such as “What about this beat makes it sound ‘confident?’” or “How does changing the ______ make the beat sound more ‘confident?’”. Although this client only created a beat around one emotion, this can be repeated with several emotions or targeted towards emotions the client is feeling most that day. To make this activity more relevant to International Day of Happiness, you might choose to create beats inspired by different feelings related to happiness–such as caring, grateful, or excited–or use happiness as a starting point to improvise around various other emotions.

Here Comes the Sun

The lyrics of this song are filled with opportunities for discussion, whether surface level or going deeper. After asking the client about what lyrics stand out and allowing them to express their thoughts and feelings, I might ask some of the following: 

  • “What do you feel like the sun and winter represent in the song?”  
  • “How do you see the ‘sun’ coming up in your own life?” 
  • “What are some things that bring a smile to your face despite your environment?”


This can be a launching point for an art to music activity using a coloring sheet depicting ice and the sun. The client would be prompted to fill in the ice with things they see as obstacles and the sun with things that bring them hope. This can be done as an individual project or as a group, with each member contributing to one image filled in by the facilitator. After completing the artwork, the client(s) and music therapist can sing the song once more, mindful of the  added meaning from the discussion and/or artwork.


Early Childhood

Five Little Smiley Faces

Another song one of our clients enjoys is “Five Little Acorns” by Miss Julieann to practice counting down from 5. In his sessions, we have adapted this song to count hearts, bees, or any other prop in the office to practice the same skill in different ways. To expand upon “five little smiley faces”, the music therapist can incorporate different kinds of faces. In this scenario the client is challenged to count only the smiley faces, avoiding the sad faces, angry faces, or laughing faces. This will challenge children’s attention skills and discrimination skills as they distinguish between different emotions.


One of the clients I have worked with loves B-I-N-G-O, and in his sessions we often adapt this song to spell other 5-letter (or shorter) words. Using this familiar and preferred melody to spell new words (like “happy”) is a great exercise in letter identification. 


To make this activity more challenging, add a scavenger hunt for items starting with each letter that is removed in the song. For example, at the close of the verse, ask the client “Which animal starts with the letter ‘H?’” and use a visual or puppets (I chose to use animals including  a hippo, lion, and bear) to provide choice-making support.

In closing, I hope you are inspired to promote happiness and joy with your clients this week and brainstorm your own creative session themes!