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Apr 11, 2019
An App Has Shown to Increase Feelings of Happiness

According to an annual Survey of American Happiness only 33 percent of Americans report being happy. That leaves 67 percent of us searching for something better.

Happiness is intrinsically subjective, and feelings change on a daily basis. But, unhappiness, while short of clinical depression, still robs us of the joy we deserve. (The Declaration of Independence, after all, calls the pursuit of happiness an “unalienable right.”)

Fortunately, we are uncovering new (and evidence-backed) ways to find our happy place. Cigna has found [PDF] that approximately 59 percent of people currently use health apps to track their health and well-being, which is why Cigna is collaborating with Happify Health to help people overcome stress and negative thoughts while building resilience through an app.1

Eligible Cigna customers can access the Happify app, which offers engaging activities and games on their smart phone, tablet, or computer. It starts with a short series of questions that help establish your “happiness score.” From there, you can explore more than 60 tracks, 3,000 science-based activities and games, and 300 guided mediations.

The app is designed to fit into a busy person’s life with personalized, bite-size activities, based on the best practices of gaming science and behavioral therapeutic disciplines. These include positive psychology, cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness, behavioral activation, and solution-focused therapy.

Users can address commonplace but troubling problems, such as “Help me lose weight,” or “I hate my job,” or “How can I be a better parent?” This will lead to a guided series of games, information, and encouraging advice, all backed by research. Completing just a few activities each week can result in meaningful improvement in your life satisfaction and your ability to fight negativity.

We often need help “dealing with life’s stressors and adapting well in the face of threats and adversity,” says Eva Borden, managing director of behavioral and medical solutions at Cigna.

Happify, she says, helps with practical and frequently fun exercises. For instance, it might outline “eight things to do to reframe how you view your job.” This could include focusing on “one thing you like about the job, and being grateful for that,” or “identifying things you enjoy outside your job.”

An online game might involve naming five negative thoughts like “anger and “disappointment” and assigning each to a toy block. Then the game lets you pull back a ball and knock those blocks down.

It might sound simple, but such exercises are based on the well-established principle of externalization, or “getting something outside your head and then obliterating it,” says Dr. Stuart L. Lustig, national medical executive for behavioral health at Cigna.

Happify is designed for all people over 18 years of age, but it may be especially helpful to Millennials. Cigna’s 2019 360 Well-Being Survey found that 91 percent of Millennials reported stress with 17 percent finding their stress unmanageable. In addition, just 12 percent of Millennials felt confident in having friends they can talk openly with, the lowest score of any generation.

Interestingly, the recent Cigna U.S. Loneliness Index found that Millennials are also particularly prone to loneliness even though they are immersed in social media that supposedly keeps them “connected” with others, Lustig says.

Borden calls social media a double-edged sword. “If I do my interactions on the phone,” she says, “I’m totally missing that physical feedback of leaning in, of someone looking me in the eye and paying attention. And instead it gets substituted for the number of ‘likes’ that I get on whatever I post. ‘Did I get 10 likes and someone else got 100 likes?’ It creates a scorecard mentality that’s completely independent of who you are as a human being.”

Happify can’t solve all causes of unhappiness, of course. And it’s no substitute for therapy or other interventions when called for. But Borden says the app has received “very positive feedback” from users.

Research confirms that you can practice certain skills to increase your happiness. And that, as our Founding Fathers noted, is a goal worth pursuing.

1 App/online store terms and mobile phone carrier/data charges apply.