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An App to Make You Happier (Yup, It Exists)

A new startup claims to have packaged the science of well being into a fun, easy to use platform. Does it work?
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Is happiness just a natural state some of us are born into (and others are not)? Is it a matter of luck? Nope, say social scientists like Harvard’s Shawn Achor, to a large degree happiness is a matter of good mental habits.

That’s great news, of course, for those of us who want to improve our well being (honestly, who doesn’t?), but it also raises a serious question: What’s the best way to go about training yourself to be happier. Startup Happify aims to be the answer to that question.

The platform teaches users five key skills (to savor, thank, aspire, give and empathize or, handily, STAGE) that positive psychologists who advise the startup have identified as underpinning happiness, using quick activities and games. Users rack up points and can share accomplishments with others on the platform. It’s based on sound principles, according to other psychologists who work on these questions (though its attempts to incorporate social sharing have raised some eyebrows as less in line with research and the young app’s effects have yet to be thoroughly scientifically tested, though studies are now underway).

Can Your Really Teach Happiness?

If you’re skeptical that an app can actually boost happiness, don’t worry, so was Happify co-founder and serial entrepreneur Ofer Leidner. "The interesting part about Happify is that, as entrepreneurs, we’re pretty skeptical people generally," he told Inc.com, but he claims that "the scientists who have developed these methods have tested them in the field for decades and are now testing them with neuroscience methods" like functional MRI.

The science is solid, he feels. It’s the term 'happiness' that sometimes confuses people. Don’t expect to smile all day long with this product or any other. No intervention can make your life hardship-proof. The goal instead, Leidner says, is to work out the emotional muscles that help us enjoy our day-to-day and deal with setbacks.

"We’re using happiness because it is a mass market, well understood term, but happiness has a very specific meaning in the positive psychology field," he cautions. "Our hope is the term happiness helps create curiosity around Happify. When you delve deeper you understand that it’s about helping people develop emotional skills that help them live better."

"Happiness as we refer to it is habits that help people create their lives for themselves, help them flourish, help them feel more fulfilled and satisfied," Leidner says.

Happify-ing the Workplace

If you’re struggling with personal issues or stress at home, Happify may be one answer, but does it also have something to offer the business owner in the professional domain? As a founder himself, Leidner says Happify as a company has benefited from the lessons of its own app.

"As a company have adapted many of the activities that we recommend to our users. For example, we have a meeting to summarize the week. We talk about things we achieved, plans and things we need to achieve the following week. That meeting is always finished with an intervention called ‘Three Good Things.’ Each of the senior people sitting in this meeting basically tells three good things that he’s grateful for that week. This helps you fight the negativity bias that we all have and focus on the good things, and is a sure way to end the week on a good note," he explains. "We also apply savoring and mindfulness exercises -- when we have lunch breaks, spending time savoring food -- very simple and fun activities."

It’s led to a more positive corporate culture and an optimistic orientation that’s alert for opportunities, he feels, and it’s not bad from the perspective of cold, hard numbers either. "There are many corporations that are now applying this science in helping develop these emotional skills in the workplace, and there is a direct correlation between that and productivity and the reduction of healthcare costs," Leidner says.

Are you interested in the idea of happiness training -- at home or at work?

 

IMAGE: Andy Peters/Flickr
Last updated: Dec 3, 2013

JESSICA STILLMAN

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.




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