Want to Feel Happier? Your Phone Can Help. (Maybe.)
Posted June 22, 2018 7:02 p.m. EDT
Thanks to a recent spate of high-profile suicides, coupled with newly released data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealing the national suicide rate to be at a 30-year high, many people are contemplating mental well-being.
In 2015, Poppy Jamie was hosting Snapchat’s first talk show, “Pillow Talk With Poppy,” when she began to think there was a particular malaise plaguing millennials. So she began incubating a new “brain health” app called Happy Not Perfect.
“I would get hundreds and hundreds of messages from all these young people around the world,” Jamie said over tea at Soho House in West Hollywood not long ago, “and what I realized was that everybody was saying the same thing: ‘I’m so stressed.’ It didn’t matter what country, gender, age. It was unanimous.”
According to the CDC, suicide is now the second-leading cause of death among 15-34-year-olds.
Jamie, a graduate of the London School of Economics, has spent the past three years working with experts in the fields of psychotherapy, mindfulness and neuroscience in order to better understand the brain, and develop an app — the medium of the moment — that would distill that learning down to a daily five-minute mental workout.
“We have 40 to 60 thousand thoughts a day; 98 percent of them are the same as yesterday, and about 80 percent of them are negative,” Jamie, 27, said she had learned. “We have to change our behaviors to create a mindset shift. But we’re never told that. We’re never taught how to process a breakup, or a death.”
She also thinks people do not understand what it is to be happy. “There’s been a real confusion over what happiness is, and I think that’s when people start feeling disillusioned,” said Jamie, the youngest board member of the UCLA Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital, which has a goal of reducing the health and economic impacts of depression by half by 2050.
“Happiness is not the absence of problems but the ability to deal with them,” she said. “I think ‘balance’ is a great word when it comes to happiness. What we’re waking up to is that happiness is not an achievement, like, ‘Oh, when I get that car, when I get that house,’ but a shift from external validation to internal fulfillment.”
Given that her 2016 TEDx talk, Addicted to Likes, explored a psychologically destructive social media culture, an app may seem an unlikely platform.
“We’ve got to accept that, in our world now, we’re integrated with technology,” Jamie said. “How do we make sure that our technology is helping us feel better rather than worse? How can we wake up in the morning and like ourselves first?”
Below, a look at her newly released happiness app and a few others — all free to begin with.
Happy Not Perfect
Designed to bio-hack the brain in five minutes, step one of seven, Check-in, decreases the impact of an emotion just by acknowledging it. Step two, Breathing, takes you out of fight or flight. Step three, Journaling, allows you process, digest, and let it go by way of a digital fire ceremony. Step four, Gratitude, shifts the focus to the positive. In step five, a mini Mind Game disrupts thought patterns. Step six, a Compassion Challenge, boosts self-esteem. Step seven, Vibes, lets you pay it forward. Guided meditations are optional.
Perk: A subscription ($9.99 for one month; $39.99 for six months; $59.99 for a year) provides access to more than 250 meditations and to a gratitude diary and compassion challenge history.
Developed by psychologists and educators, Smiling Mind is a nonprofit aiming to make mindfulness accessible to everyone, including children as young as 7. Meditations are offered according to age group and audience, for example Adults, Sport, Mindfulness in the Classroom, Mindfulness in the Workplace. Prompts like “How Do You Feel?” encourage checking in with oneself.
Perk: With Family Sharing, up to six family members can use this app.
The most popular free meditation app on Android and iOS stores, Insight Timer is home to some 4.5 million meditators and offers guided meditations, talks and podcasts by mindfulness experts, neuroscientists, psychologists and meditation teachers, in 25 languages, on topics including depression and grief.
Perk: Practitioners of all levels seeking community can see how many meditated “with” them, send direct messages and join discussion groups.
Named the No. 1 New App by Apple in 2017, Aura offers mindfulness meditations, short stories, music, sounds of nature, a gratitude journal and life coaching sessions to soothe stress and anxiety and help users sleep better. The artificial-intelligence-powered program uses questionnaires to personalize and improve the user experience.
Perk: A subscription ($11.99 for one month; $59.99 for one year; $399 for lifetime) allows unlimited access to meditations of three minutes, seven minutes or 10 minutes (versus one three-minute meditation a day).