Welcome to my blog, a place to explore and learn about the experience of running a psychiatric practice. I post about things that I find useful to know or think about. So, enjoy, and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Happiness is...

Have you seen Happify? It's an app that has you play games to increase your happiness. It claims to be science-based. For example, I just played, "Negative Knockout". You get 5 negative feelings, and then you destroy them with a slingshot. And you get extra points for destroying them with only two tries, although you get up to 5 tries.

Here's a screenshot:

Look familiar? Of course it does. It's Angry Birds.

Happify claims the benefits of this game are:

Reduce the impact of your negative thoughts
Stop ruminating on your worries
Feel empowered to control your thoughts

I guess it's a fair question. Can Angry Birds improve your life if you rename it, Negative Knockout?

And they even site research, a study done at Ohio State University that took place in Madrid. Students were asked to write down thoughts about their body image. Then half were told to throw out the piece of paper they wrote their thoughts on. The ones who kept their "thoughts" later demonstrated lower body image than the ones who threw them out.

There were two other tasks in the study: one in which the students were asked to write down beliefs about the Mediterranean Diet, and either throw away, leave, or keep their thoughts; another in which the students wrote their thoughts in a word-processing program and then either put them in the recycle bin, or didn't. Both tasks had results similar to the first.

There's another game called, "Uplift", in which you are supposed to tap hot air balloons with positive words, like cozy and jolly, and avoid tapping negative words like judgement and sad.

What can I say? I'm skeptical, at best. That may be because I haven't played enough Happify games-skeptical is one of those negative words.

There are also activities like, "Thx Thx Thx" that asks you to record today's happy moments.

The way it works is that you fill out a little questionnaire that asks things like how often you felt joy in the last week. And then it recommends a track based on your specific needs. And the tracks have the various games and activities. Some of the tracks are Conquer your negative thoughts, Hardwiring happiness, Cope better with stress, Get to know yourself better, Before happiness: Kick-start positive change. Several of these are premium tracks. Also, some of the games and activities within free tracks are premium. And you have a limited time to complete each track.

The tracks are created by experts. For example, the Conquer your negative thoughts track was:

Happify claims to have "combed through the body of positive psychology to build exercises in STAGE, that's savor, thank, aspire, give, empathize, the 5 essential happiness skills you'll develop by using Happify. And of course, you can track your progress.

I don't know anything about positive psychology, but I have noticed an interesting jargon phenomenon among 20 and 30-somethings these days. "Negativity" is to be assiduously avoided. So is being "Judgemental". And one must always aspire to "Productivity".

I don't think productivity is invariably a healthy thing. I also think sometimes one has to exercise judgement about people, and why is it the end of the world if one does? And negativity? I'm not really sure what that means. Is it feeling sad? That's life. Is it letting others know you're sad? That's intimacy. Is it pessimism? That has its role to play.

I'm not comfortable with the idea that negativity has to be conquered, or that happiness is necessarily something to pursue. The implication may be that you're a failure if you're not happy. I guess I've been influenced by Freud's famous therapeutic aim for his hysterical patients, "...Transforming... hysterical misery into common unhappiness."*

*Ihr hysterisches Elend in gemeines Ungl├╝ck zu verwandeln, SE Vol II, Studies in Hysteria, p. 311. 


  1. Productivity?

    Drop that app immediately.

    It was invented by a managed care company.

    That also explains why they want "happy" instead of good old "neutral". From what I have observed their cure for burnout is a torrent of positive statements with nothing to back them up. The one I heard for ten years was "Change is good."

    No - it is not.

  2. Just to be clear, the app didn't mention productivity. It's just a catchword I hear a lot. I don't take the app seriously, but I keep it around for laughs.