After Apple coined and popularized the phrase “There’s an app for that,” and it became a bit of a running joke and an “if only” solution to all of our mobile technological woes, it’s become more relevant than ever. We rely on our smartphones and on apps for almost everything: music, dating, exercising, health, transport, learning a language, finding the love of our life and tuning a guitar. But what are some of the best happiness apps?
The more smartphone-reliant happiness seekers among us want apps to help us become happier.
The best happiness apps on the market are, first and foremost, free (at least for a trial run). Many also use Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) as a basis for their concept. According to the NHS, this is a talking therapy aimed at changing thinking patterns and behaviours and is most commonly used to treat anxiety and depression. While applications are indeed very different than an hour of talk therapy with a counsellor, the way that apps can work within the realm of CBT is to try to modify your thinking patterns and by helping you to change patterns of behaviour through repetition.
Who uses these, anyway?
There are various reasons why self-care mobile apps can be a positive addition to your life and push you a little bit closer towards your quest to happiness. They’re more common than you think, and people already tend to use the iPhone, an extension of themselves, as a way to learn more about and to be more in tune with their mind: according to Nature, about 29% of “disease-specific mobile health apps” are focused on mental health. For example, two common mental health related apps for more dire circumstances are the PTSD Coach app or FOCUS for users with schizophrenia. While these two don’t illustrate why the average happy hunter uses happiness apps, they have some of the same benefits.
Can an app really make you happier?
First, the best happiness apps are helpful for those with a busier schedule, always available and ready to help. After all, you never know when you’ll need help – and, ideally, if you can use the same smartphone that you’re always looking at to make you just a bit more happy, structured, and grateful, there’s always an upside. The app also interacts positively with the user. Just like getting constant notifications or updates on social media might be stressful, receiving reminders to do a task or maybe an affirmation right when you need it could help you feel a lot better.
While not all the apps are free, many beat the cost of going to see a mental health professional, and, what’s more, the stigma of going to see a specialist unfortunately still exists for many.
In a nutshell,
- You can practice them everywhere;
- If you use them as much as you use your smartphone, you’ll use them regularly;
- It can remind you to be happier if you forget;
- Many of them are cost effective if not free.
Still, an app can be a good first step in the right direction.
Of course, it’s important to remember that happiness and health apps are an excellent way to keep working towards better mental health at the forefront of your everyday life and can consolidate healthy habits, but even the best happiness apps by no means replace visiting a mental health professional, or even just simple human contact. Think of these happy apps like vitamins – supplements are great, but they can never replace the real thing.
The Best Happiness Apps:
Founded in New York City in 2012, Happify acts as a gratitude journal that you can share online. It comes in both website and app form, and it has various “scientifically validated tracks” that are suggested to you after you take a short quiz detailing your life. If not, you can also choose from options such as “Conquer Your Negative Thoughts,” “Get to Know Yourself Better,” and “Raise Happy, Resilient Teens” – how many are available to you depends on if you bought it for $11.99 a month or downloaded the free version. Each track has a theme and is divided into parts (usually 4). These are then divided into activities, ranging from guided meditations to reflective writing assignments, to games: one such game is a negativity bias game called Uplift, where the user selects positive words from a collection of rising balloons for points.
For the more socially minded of you, there’s a community page with inspirational comments from other users. You can add your own too to brighten someone else’s day since it’s proven to make you feel happier. There are 58 “core activities” to begin with, with different variations, adding up to 1,200 various activities total. These activities were designed with the help of a professor of psychology at Hiram College Acacia Park, and they range from asking you to write down what you’re looking forward to in general, or looking forward to doing for a friend. Each of the 58 activities has a “Why it works” icon next to it, to explain you more about the science behind the fun games. Every two weeks, your phone gives you a happiness check-in, so it can continue on its quest to
“Overcome stress and negative thoughts” and “build resilience.”
The reception for this simply happy app has been overall positive: indeed, users say that it changed their outlook, “especially when it comes to stressful experiences” adding that it reframes their “negative thoughts.”
Users also reported feeling more motivated and productive, indicating that it helps you to solidify positive, helpful habits that are the framework for a more confident and happy life. What’s more, users have reported that it gives them perspective, acting as a “digital scrapbook.”
- It helps you build resilience for stressful experiences;
- It changes the way you have negative thoughts;
- It helps you build happy, healthy habits tied to positive thinking;
- Since even reflecting on happy memories releases chemicals that make you happy, you can boost your well-being by making a digital scrapbook to remind you of sunnier pastures when you feel blue.
An Android app for Google Play, Happy Habits is unfortunately not yet available for us iPhone users. Happy Habits describes itself as relying heavily on the principles of CBT, and that it works by helping to “create the conditions for happiness in [the user’s] life.” It starts out by giving its users a 119-item test to assess their happiness based on 14 factors; then, they administer results and suggestions, through games and through soothing audios to talk you through your quest for happiness.
Some of the things it features are Emotion Training Audios for help with managing emotions so that you can be more aware and cultivate a more positive attitude, best used when you feel overwhelmed by anger, sadness, or stress. Then, if you’re feeling particularly anxious, you can also use the Relaxation Audios to unwind and to learn deep relaxation, something which is always an excellent way to relax and to benefit from life more. Or, for those of you who like to find out more about the concept and the history of the pursuit of happiness, there’s their Choosing Happiness Audio to delve into the idea of and search for well-being. For those of you who like to cross things off of a list and who are conscious of their self-care, Happy Habits also features a Customisable Happy to Do list.
This reminds you to exercise, go outside, take a breath or drink some water.
Like most of the best happy apps, it’s game-ified, which means it turns the pursuit of happiness into a game rather than a tedious chore, with its point feature that helps you to keep track of your progress. For extra motivation (nothing like seeing how much you’ve been succeeding to achieve even more), it has a graph feature that then helps you to zoom out to see your progress. Users who like to write and keep track of their thoughts will be happy to know that the app has a Happiness Journal for writing personal affirmations for yourself and recording positive events to look back on later. Those of you who like to read can learn more about the science behind the app with articles on happiness and CBT. Its design is a little retro, but it uses positive colours like yellow and orange, and it’s customisable – for example, users can put their favourite picture of Hawaii, a snapshot of a beloved pet, or a family photo as their background.
- It’s based on CBT, a method that has been proven to help depression and anxiety;
- It has a large variety of calming audios for you to listen to in the car, on the bus, or at home;
- It heklps you keep track of your self care list in a non-stressful way;
- It gives you a gratitude scrapbook to look back on when you need to cheer up and remember why you should be happy.
Happier is an app on a mission: to make sure you appreciate life to the fullest. This app was developed Nataly Kogan, a TEDtalk speaker who emigrated from Russia when she was young and had to go through hard times, escaping oppression in the Soviet Union while her family got on their feet in the Detroit projects. Allegedly, she vowed to find happiness, first looking towards success and wealth to achieve it. Quite understandably, this did not lead her where she wanted, so she turned towards her father’s work – science – to see what next steps she could take.
She explains that what she found was that happiness lies in the small moments in life, and that you can be happier by just appreciating them more.
In her own words, she wants to inspire you to say “I’m happier now because” by developing a “gratitude habit.”
In practice, the app works by helping you to be “more present and positive throughout the day,” working like a life appreciation platform, or even a personal life coach. Each day it prompts you to write what you are most grateful for, be it the sun shining on your back, a moment spent with a loved one, making every stoplight on the street, or getting your favourite ice cream – you can even add pictures! These are moments that you might not notice if not for Happier, with which you can “create, collect and share those tiny positive moments.” Ways you can use it are to lift your mood, take a meditation break, or enjoy the moments that make your day happier.
It’s portable and can be used on Apple watch as well, acting as your gratitude journal. It also offers “bite-sized, expert-led courses,” to teach you more about the practice and science of happiness on which the app is based, breaching subjects like strength, calmness, and gratitude. What’s more, it works as a sort of happiness social media platform, where you can connect to those around you (if you want, since sharing publicly is entirely optional) and get inspired by their gratitude posts. There’s something very zen about Happier, an app which urges you to think of happiness, not like a feeling, but more like a muscle to be trained and on which you can rely on your day-to-day life.
- Instead of selling you an unattainable happiness, it works to help you appreciate what you already have;
- To keep a picture, easily updatable scrapbook on what you’re most grateful for;
- It helps you learn more about the science behind positive psychology;
- It works around a very old, uncomplicated, and trusted way to increase your well-being.
The Bottom Line:
Of course, using these apps along won’t be enough to change your life. Spending too much time on your phone – even on happiness apps – won’t give you time to find moments to be grateful for or to put what you learn on these apps into practice. Still, there is science to back up the claims behind these programs. For example, a meta-analysis of 51 “positive-interventions” like mindfulness activities, gratitude writing, and goal-setting found them to “significantly enhance well-being and decrease depressive symptoms.” More specifically, one of the main ideas behind the majority of these apps, counting your blessings, has been proven to make you happier.[/su_list]
We invite you to try out what we think are the best happiness apps to see what works best for you, and what pushes you to do the little things that will make your life better.