by Marwa Farouk
The web is the panacea of our time and it seems that there is nothing that web-based services cannot do. Technology, supposedly a big part of what’s making us anxious, is now being used to wipe our cares away by providing a digital happy-making cure.
Through social media, blogs and newsletter subscriptions, I was bombarded with various articles addressing one subject: Happiness. After all, you don’t have to be clinically depressed to be glum. And what I learned is that science tells us that happiness is a skill you can master and control. That was how I came across “Happify,” the happiness app whose goal is to improve your mood and mindset and build emotional resilience.
Happify.com is an online platform of sorts, promising to make you happier when you sign up by funnelling the relevant “science of happiness” through the latest technology. The website and application are full of game-like activities created by scientists and game designers; as you play, you learn to master the five essential skills of happiness: savor, thank, aspire, give and empathize. You can also read countless feel-good articles about happiness-boosting strategies from groundbreaking research in positive psychology on the website.
You can register through Facebook, and make your activities public within the Happify community, follow and text members too. I answered a short questionnaire designed to test my happiness level and direct me towards the right track to start the first of many Happify exercises. I was asked to note and cherish three self-defined victories during my day, and type them down, just any pleasant surprises that brightened my day or lifted my spirit, even for a short while. I thought: “Morning coffee, my friend’s sweet message, and daily workout, all done!” So I typed that up and clicked on ‘Happify It’ to make it count. It truly felt good to focus my attention on these small victories, if only temporarily, and I found that I was upbeat for the rest of the day.
I marched onwards to explore the ‘Serenity Scene,’ a virtual nature-meditation activity, which had me stare at an image of a beach and listen to the soothing sound of waves lapping its shoreline for a couple of minutes (adjust time and scene to your liking). Next, I explored the ‘Tranquil Lake,’ a savoring exercise where you must find the 6 objects hidden in a scene, taking your time to savor the details. If you get stuck, they have provided 3 hints. This can help you to strengthen your ability to savor small details, take a break from your worries, enhance your mood and bounce back from negativity. I was hooked.
Over the following days, I explored other tracks such as “Conquer your negative thoughts,” “Stop comparing yourself to others and see the good in life,” and “Cope Better with Stress,” which include a series of fun games and guided reflection. In one activity, I pledged to walk around my house and notice how each room smelled and what that meant to me. Each room had the attitude and odor of its occupant, and it said a lot about the occupant’s personality, quirks and thoughts.
Humans have a built-in negativity bias—evolutionarily necessary, hence the ‘Uplift’ game, which involves colorful hot-air balloons floating in a scenic sky with different words attached to them. You must click on the balloons with cheerful labels – like Hooray, Zest, Peppy – to make them rise, and avoid the sad ones – like Gloom, Worry, and Fear. You earn points for seeing and choosing positivity. A plane flies by with a banner trailing behind that reads, “Good,” you get ten points when you click on it. This goes on for three blissful rounds. Although there is a high score, you do not need to compete with anyone other than yourself. Just relax, focus on the positive-labeled balloons, and enjoy those care-free minutes and bubbly scenery.
Happify claims that 86% of its users get happier in two months, measured according to their responses to a series of happiness check-in questionnaires. Access to the basic system – including ten happiness-boosting tracks – is free; to access additional ones, you have to buy a membership for about USD 15 a month. You are encouraged to spend a few minutes per login, two or three times a week and feedback and site support are available. You can view your stats, measure your happiness level, track your progress, build your happiness skill and level up, earn achievements (silver and gold medals that will take you to a new track), and gradually, improve the quality of your life. Tracks are designed for various life situations. As you complete activities, more are unlocked. A huge part of them are on self-awareness and savoring, helping you experience with all of your senses.
Activities like ‘A Friendly Impact’ can help you recognize our own good deeds; studies show that affirming your sense of personal worth can improve your ability to cope with stress. Affirmations get you to focus on higher values rather than immediate impulses, and that boosts your ability to self-regulate. In fact, even brief, daily affirmations can have long-term benefits if they break your cycle of negative rumination.
Thinking of an impact I had on a friend was an eye opener. I used to feel burdened with friends’ problems. I didn’t see how I could have been helping them, even by listening or whining and thinking out loud together. I realized that I needed to work on upping that tiny amount of natural empathy that I had. Instead of seeing ‘inconvenience’ everywhere, I started to see ‘acts,’ good ones!
‘Sneak It In’ is a body scan meditation exercise. The next time you have a few spare moments in your day – perhaps you’re commuting on a bus or just waiting somewhere – focus inward and perform this exercise: Imagine you’re taking a scan of your body, from your feet up to your head. Just “feel” each body part as you scan over it, and then allow it to fade and move on. When interruptions break through, acknowledge them and let them slip away, refocusing on your body scan. This activity can help you to reduce anxiety, build self-awareness, and reduce blood pressure and chronic pain. I do it when I go to bed; it helps me fall asleep faster and evokes happy dreams.
‘Thx Thx Thx’ is a gratitude activity where you take a moment to think about three things in your home or involving your family, that make you feel thankful. Scientists have found that feeling thankful can increase your happiness and help you cope better with daily stressors. This can helps you to combat your innate negativity bias, reduce feelings of sadness or hopelessness, and feel better about your life. Again, this helped me see not just a glass half-full, but a whole pitcher for refills!
While you happify, you shouldn’t feel anxious or obsess about monitoring your happiness, thinking “I’m not being happy enough today,” fumbling the optimism for which Happify trains. It shouldn’t feel like a chore or a mere series of tasks and prompts. Happify helps you develop those habits to become more aware, more grateful, to really focus on what drives you and find meaning in everything you do. It’s fun, easy, short and sweet, yet relevant.
Remember: Happify is just an app, a tool, no miracles! It’s there to convince you that happiness is a learnable skill and give you tips. Think of it as a gentle prod, reminding you to return to present moment and keep just a happy frame of mind, eventually all things will fall into place. And don’t let good moments pass by when you’re hooked to Happify. Happiness is an ongoing process that no one can do it for you.
Happify was founded in New York City in 2012 by Tomer Ben-Kiki, Ofer Leidner, and Andy Parsons—three serial entrepreneurs united by a belief that technology should be used to make peoples’ lives better. A few years ago, we learned about the field of positive psychology—the scientific study of what makes people thrive and lead meaningful lives. The findings had enormous, life-changing potential—so why didn’t more people know about it? With our expertise in gaming and technology, we realized we had a unique opportunity to bring the science to life in a fun, engaging way that could help people everywhere live more fully.
“We now know that happiness is a skill that can be strengthened—and we want to make the benefits of scientific discovery readily available and usable by you in an interactive way.” Happify