Daniel Cordaro

Founder and CEO, The Contentment Foundation 

Fellow project website: www.contentment.org



Daniel Cordaro is very systematically changing schools into fulfilling spaces for students, teachers, and everyone involved where they learn and live with empathy, emotional self-awareness, and resilience. 



Daniel imagines a world where schools are psychologically safe spaces, where every student is connected to one another and has a deep sense of love, trust, and connection within their community. Daniel believes that a culture of social-emotional well-being can be built from a very young age and can be effectively embedded throughout school ecosystems so that everyone involved (teachers, students, parents, counselors, administrators, support staff, security personnel, etc.) can access practical tools to develop and manage their well-being.

Daniel, a former Yale professor of Psychology, and his organization the Contentment Foundation have designed a comprehensive program that measurably improves the well-being of everyone in the school eco-system. Increased well-being invariably then contributes to improved learning. Their program – the Four Pillars of Well-Being, integrates ancient traditions of human wisdom with contemporary science on well-being in ways that easily adapt to local cultures and school curricula around the world, and they include:

  • Mindfulness: ability to recognize and channel emotions
  • Community: ability to build empathy and trust with peers, teachers, family, and community
  • Self-curiosity: eagerness to explore emotional responses to situations
  • Contentment: skill to recognize and heal old reactive patterns and develop gratitude

To augment the curriculum, and increase the efficacy of implementation, Daniel also developed a data-driven platform that measures progress along 48 critical aspects of school health, wellness, and safety at the individual, group, and whole-school levels. The easy-to-digest visual reports allow the school to consciously step back and analyze the emotional well-being of staff and students in real-time. Partner schools and communities also receive access to a curated, extensive library of materials covering a wide range of mental health and well-being topics.

In a three-year-long study1, published by the American Psychological Association, their Four Pillars program was implemented and designed in a K-8 school in Florida. The results showed that it enhanced students’ vocabulary to recognize and express emotions. There was an overall reduction in stress and an increase in the emotional state most conducive for focused learning, attention, and reflection. Bullying went down, as did stress indicators. By building this multi-layered infrastructure in a school system, the program provided measurable, evidence-based safety and mental resilience practices to every stakeholder of the school’s ecosystem. It also enabled the teachers to be more compassionate and feel far more content. It also significantly improved their teaching efficacy.

1 in 7 (14%) of 10–19 year olds experience mental health conditions

At the core of the model is a rigorously researched curriculum that Daniel wrote in collaboration with a team of domain expert educators, developmental psychologists, teachers, neuroscientists, and philosophers from around the world. Daniel, based on decades of empirical evidence, believes that well-being is a skill that one can learn with practice. His system is activity-based, age-appropriate, and provides the space for students to understand their own emotions and be more empathetic with their peers, teachers, family, and community.

Success in implementing the Four Pillars model begins with the adults in the system making personal commitments to well-being practices. Training in these practices is available to these adults (including families) through a 24/7 digital platform. Understanding and implementing the program, as co-learners with their students, make teachers more emotionally balanced. This has a positive impact on their personal lives as well as in their roles as caregivers with their family and friends. The positive change in the personal sphere then reinforces their role-modeling of the mindful behavioral patterns in their classroom activities. You’re a better teacher when you are a better parent and a better person overall.

Daniel believes that in a decade’s time, we will reach a tipping point when the vast majority of countries will have policies and programs to support well-being in every school within their borders. Collecting well-being data will be the norm, just as it is with students’ physical health and academic achievement, and scientifically based well-being programs will be the standard and an expected part of pedagogy.


The Global Health Data Exchange , estimates that 1 in 7 (14%) of 10–19year olds experience mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, ADHD, and eating disorders. With a growing population of young people, especially in the Global South, and more children joining schools every year, there exists a serious need to institutionalize preventive measures and provide scaffolding for individuals to better manage their mental health from an early age. Moreover, it is imperative to not look at mental healthcare purely from the Euro-centric lens and to learn from older and indigenous wisdom across cultures. This will help develop newer community-based models of caregiving that enable every individual to practice empathy and act as both preventors and as early responders to mental health challenges.

Though many countries have declared mental health as a priority in their educational institutes, there remain two critical problems — there simply are not enough trained individuals to guide students on this journey, and, without systematic measurement of such programs, they fall by the wayside. Moreover, today there is little to no grasp of the need and therefore support for schools to cultivate a culture of wellbeing that counteracts mental health risk factors like bullying and academic stress. Usually, mental health takes a backseat to academic results, which are carefully measured – and define success. And what doesn’t get measured, often doesn’t get done.


Daniel has shifted the responsibility of mental health from school counselors to everyone in the school. This shift, which catalyzes a cultural shift in the entire school viding an evidence-based curriculum, personalized sup-port for implementation, building the requisite digital infrastructure, and measuring progress in real-time. This gives opportunity to students, teachers, parents, and the school administration to have a finger on the pulse of their own wellbeing and that of their whole school. In addition, Daniel has applied medical-grade approaches — from positive psychology — through a combination of personalized human support along with digitally accessible dashboards, activities, and learning journeys.

Daniel has built a community of 250 schools across the USA, the UK, New Zealand, Singapore, Indonesia, and Bhutan.
Daniel has built a community of 250 schools across the USA, the UK, New Zealand, Singapore, Indonesia, and Bhutan.

Daniel’s first step is to build a well-being team in a school. The well-being team is a group of 3-10 of the most enthusiastic champions in the school’s ecosystem. After several coaching sessions, the well-being team creates a localized strategy to implement various pieces of the Four Pillar program.

Daniel is shifting the role of teachers from instructors to that of role-models who practice positively reinforcing skills of empathy and wellbeing in action. They model well-being practices and behaviors and act as guides both in helping students to take ownership of their own well-being and in supporting their journey toward practicing it as a skill. This emphasis provides a deep return on investment for the partner schools, as teachers report greater job satisfaction, less stress, and reduced burnout.

Teachers also play a significant role in capturing and reporting data on individual student learning, levels of stress, academic performance, rates of bullying, as well as student engagement, interaction, collaboration, and leadership All of which helps provide the whole school with a data-informed picture of students’ progress, needs, and successes.

Rigorous research studies accompany this collection of school-level data, which help to continually refine the program and bring additional layers of attention to program’s evidence base and measured impact. For example, in one of Daniel’s early studies, published by the American Psychological Association in 2018, they found that three years into one partner school’s implementation of the Four Pillars, teachers showed schoolwide increases in contentment, self-compassion, and efficacy as well as decreases in burnout compared to the Year 1 baseline assessments. In addition, the amount of time spent teaching and personally practicing the well-being lessons correlated with the teachers’ subjective well-being and self-compassion. The more time teachers spent practicing the program’s lessons on their own, the farther with those teachers’ levels of stress fell. And, at the end of the rollout, students were also exhibiting better well-being in multiple ways, including the use of a more varied, rich emotional vocabulary, significant improvements in self-awareness, and more frequent experiences of positive emotional states.

The Contentment Foundation has now set out to build the largest dataset on the well-being of children, teachers, and school staff internationally. Given the digital components of the model that offers continuous and comprehensive evaluation, this dataset builds depth and usefulness over time as more and more schools across the world join the program. The dataset will help the model evolve, strengthen, an build confidence. It also allows more players to contribute to the movement with data-driven ideas and practices.

In service of Daniel’s goal to build a system applicable globally across schools set in different cultural contexts, he has built a community of 250 schools across the USA, the UK, New Zealand, Singapore, Indonesia, and Bhutan. Now, the Contentment Foundation is partnering with large education networks—such as Pearson Education (100k schools worldwide), Communities in Schools Foun- dation (2500 schools in the USA), and Eton House (200 schools across Southeast Asia)—in pursuit of the vision to transform schools around the world. Additionally, Daniel is building collaborations with the governments of Bhutan, New Zealand, and several states in the United States to continue to spread the well-being program within public education systems.

To facilitate the spread and scale of the Four Pillars plat- form and model, Daniel utilizes a “Robinhood” model that uses grants and income from wealthier schools to offset the cost for schools who cannot pay to participate. To scale internationally, Daniel and his team comply with eligibility and cultural norms for each country, which en- sures that this team can fully interact within the larger legal, funding, and political structures and systems. Ad- ditionally, positioning themselves in culturally responsive ways helps local partners participate in the scaling their work, and ensuring them that as long as they align them- selves with the values, protocols, and implementation model, they are completely in control of the work.


Daniel’s early life was focused on school, and he spent much of his time in academia, including six years of un- dergraduate and graduate study in chemistry. But the stress and anxiety associated with his studies left Daniel feeling burned out, isolated, and increasingly empty in- side. So, after experiencing a personal well-being crisis, he made a radical change—he committed to learning about human well-being from a psychological perspec- tive and he began deep-diving into the study of human emotions. He also began to travel and learn from ancient and indigenous traditions of well-being, and started to become clearer, more grounded, and increasingly more capable of managing life’s most intense situations, in- cluding the loss of most of his family due to severe mental illness.

Daniel went on to earn a PhD in psychology and led three of the largest cross-cultural studies on human emotion ever conducted in the field. He has spent the last decade studying what it means to live a flourishing life, and then sharing the findings with schools around the world. Dan- iel’s research teams have studied over a dozen cultures around the globe, including making first contact with an isolated community in remote Eastern Bhutan.

In July 2014, the National Bureau of Economic Research published a paper that made a huge impact on Daniel’s life direction. The study quantified the psychological well-being of every city and region in the United States, listing those cities and regions in order from best to worst in access to mental health resources and high- est rates of mental illness. As Daniel read through the data, his entire childhood and unusual career track came into focus for him in a single instant. At the very bottom of this list of hundreds of places was his hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania. This listing rang true to Daniel’s experience as he and most of the people he knew grow- ing up had deep experiences with addiction, abuse, and suicide at home. It was a turning point in Daniel’s life and career—he decided to dedicate his research to establishing the foundation of an organization that would make well-being accessible to everyone.

Daniel spent two years as the Director of Wellbeing at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. While there, he and his team inaugurated a new area of research on contentment, publishing some of the first original research on what it means to cultivate unconditional acceptance of the present moment. Daniel’s goal is to significantly improve the lives of 1 billion children and 1 billion adults—25 percent of earth’s population—within his lifetime.

“Dr. Daniel Cordaro (1985) is one of the top scientific researchers in the fields of emotion psychology and human wellbeing... [who] as founder and CEO of The Contentment Foundation, helps schools, families, companies, and entire nations cultivate sustainable wellbeing by using scientifically-evidenced practices” – Ivo Valkenburg for the New Financial Magazine

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