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Get Happier with Your iPhone

written by Yee-Ming Tan 23 November 2009

Yee-Ming Tan, MAPP, provides executive coaching services and leadership development training to senior executives. Recent clients include: Cathay Pacific, Goldman Sachs, and Microsoft. Yee-Ming also publishes a series of tools, RippleCards, for people who choose to cultivate greater well-being in their lives.

Her articles are here.

Type in the word “happiness” on iTunes.com and you’ll discover a long list of apps on this topic.  There are two interesting apps developed based on positive psychology research: Live Happy and Gratitude Journal.

LiveHappyHome_150x284 Live Happy by Signal Patterns

Based on the research of Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of the book The How of Happiness and professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, this app was developed to include information, in both text and video format, that can help you better understand what is known and proven about the attainment of happiness as well as features that encourage you to engage in happiness-enhancing activities.

The application lets you choose from several different activities, tells you what to do, and tells you why and how this particular activity promotes happiness. There are 6 groups of activities:

  • Savor activities include creating an album of beautiful pictures to look at, or happy memories to relive.
  • Social activities aim to nurture relationship by making time to connect with people and keeping a kindness journal.
  • Strive activities include setting goals in different areas of your life, rating and prioritizing these goals.
  • Thank activities include expressing gratitude to people in your life, and keeping a gratitude journal
  • Optimism includes envisioning your ‘best possible self’
  • Explore section provides you with lots of information about positive psychology and the science of happiness.

happy_daysexpress_gratitudeIf you take the survey and provide personal information to build your profile, the app can find the more effective activities tailored to your preferences. You can pose questions to the expert (Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky), and answers appear in a long scroll (as a suggestion, it would have been nice to see the time stamp so we know which are the newest replies).

What do I love about this app? The sharing function – take a photo of your savoring moment, write down what is special about this moment, and your savoring moment can be stored in an album or shared with your friends on facebook or twitter in an instant.

At $9.99 this app is considered pricey but in terms of value (educational, comprehensive list of happiness-enhancing activities backed by solid research, huge amount of information and resources), you definitely get your money’s worth. However, it feels to me like a serious app for people who are serious about positive psychology. I wonder how it will come across to people who know nothing about positive psychology. Making it more fun to use will help reduce the sense of “I know these activities are good for me but I am not having much fun doing them.”

(Note about location: Unfortunately, I had no luck in watching the videos. They hang after a few seconds of play. The slow video buffering might have something to do with my location, Hong Kong. They might work better in the U.S.)

Gratitude Journal by Happier.com

This free simple application gives you the opportunity to create your gratitude journal by recording three things that you’re grateful for on a daily basis and measure your overall happiness over time.

I suggest you start with the introduction video by Dr. Martin Seligman which sets the context for focusing on the good things in life. After recording three good things, move on to “measure your happiness” to answer 24 multiple choice questions about how you’re feeling for the day. Do it on a regular basis and you’ll see a chart of your overall happiness. The following three images take you through the application: record three good things, take the survey, and view the results (or you can watch a demo video on youtube).


What do I love about this app? Counting one’s blessings is a proven intervention for increasing one’s happiness. This simple app gives you a chance to recognize and amplify the good things in your life, feel positive about them, and experience gratitude for the situation and the people who are helping to make them possible.

Both iPhone Apps

Several positive psychologists have said,“there is no short-cut to happiness,” and this is how I feel after using these two apps. You need to use them regularly, make it habitual, and only then will you start to notice the improvement.

Try these apps yourself if you are an iPhone user. More users and feedback will help the developers improve their apps. Mobile technology is now an integral part of our lives and I certainly hope to see more happiness-boosting activities built around modern communication technology.

Happier.com by Reflexive Learning, LLC and Live Happy by Signal Patterns

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M.K. 23 November 2009 - 2:40 pm

Wow! I was just discussing the increasing prevalence of iPhone users and the new trend of creating apps. The person with whom I was discussing this seemed to feel that this trend, if it should be called a trend, is no more than good marketing providing techies with fat salaries. It’s great to see that this new technology is being used towards positive life style change rather than simply increasing the speed at which we conduct daily business.

The increasing dependency on technology is a much-debated concept. Critics of this dependency complain that those chained to their iPhones, Bluetooths, and mobile devices have replaced social activities and random conversation with technology. They also claim that technology simply adds to the complexity and stresses of daily life. While supporters claim that the Internet and “share” options on iPhones make global communication and info sharing easier, critics claim that such virtual interactions have replaced face-to-face interaction. While tech lovers may feel that they are increasing their happiness through using this plethora of apps on their iPhone, in actuality could the time spent chained to the Iphone replace face-to-face interaction such that we lose the positive benefits of nonverbal communication?

In contrast, I agree that technology is becoming an integral and undeniable part of our daily lives. Indeed, at times, these new apps make daily life run much more smoothly. We no longer need a separate bulky agenda to manage our schedules and contacts, and we may not always have time to write long journal entries. If we make the act of thinking about positive activities and positive thoughts more accessible, perhaps they will better fit into our complex daily lives. The more easily such activities fit into our busy schedules, the more likely we will be to create a habit of positivity rather than neglect the activities completely once our New Year’s resolution is forgotten. Thus, do you foresee the iPhone or perhaps such positive life style apps becoming as commonplace as the spiral-bound agenda and old-fashioned diary? If these were to become more commonplace, do you feel that it will lose its novelty or effectiveness, such that users forget the meaning of positive activities and gratitude journals?

Jenn Veit 25 November 2009 - 1:33 pm

Hi Yee-ming:

Thanks for the article! I was drawn to it because I am a former non-iPhone believer turned convert. I think that going without my iPhone would be more difficult than going without my home computer, hands down! I do use it for everything. And the funny part is that I will see others in crowds looking, checking, searching for some bit of information on their iPhone. This happens at parks when I am with my kids, out at restaurants, even when I went out dancing the Apple feigns like myself had them out more often than not.

I have become conscious of my habit and have set up some boundaries about when it is not ok to use the iPhone. I do wonder, though, if Apps like this that do have great intention in mind really catch on, would we then have one more form of relinquishing our personal responsibility? More specifically, if this caught on as a trend in general, looking for some device to follow its “pathway to happiness”, does it then play a role of an outside locus of control of how we feel?

I have noticed for years that some, but not all, of the “me” generation has been willing to mamke their own decisions yet can still put the blame back on some outside force when things do not go right. I believe that just as this article points out, there is no shortcut to happiness, and you could not possibly do enough positive self-talk or activities to cover up truly entrenched negative beliefs. I do think that this is a GREAT notion, and I hope that it means that many more people are open their understanding to how influential positive psychology exercises can be. Nevertheless, we must still be willing to follow through, regardless of the medium we choose to help us work towards a happier life, and one little app may start a tidal wave of change, but only when the person was really looking for a way to shift their ahbits ad perspective.

Darius 28 November 2009 - 5:02 pm


It’s pretty cool to see positive psychology becoming more mainstream, but as you said, these apps seem to be made specifically for people who are really into pos psych. Do you think in the future more general versions of these apps will come out that everybody will be able to enjoy?


Carin 28 November 2009 - 10:22 pm

I found this very interesting! I just became more familiar with Positive Psychology recently and it seems that everything I have read in the past says to use less of our cell phones. But, I guess this is a good way to still use our cell phones but in a positive, happiness-enhancing way!

Sarah 29 November 2009 - 12:54 am


That’s so crazy that there is an application that is basically like a crash course in positive psychology. I was wondering though, do you think that people that try to engage in a bunch of extra activities might end up stressing themselves out rather than making themselves happy. Especially with the journal activity; that could really require the person to reevaluate how they spend their time each day.



Ming 3 December 2009 - 11:55 am

Dear MK
Stefana Broadbent, a digital ethnographer, in her TED appearance talks about how the Internet enables intimacy. Her studies show that a typical person may have about 120 friends but he/she actually talks to, has two-way exchanges with about four to six people on a regular base, 80% of cell phone calls are made to 4 people. I have a love-hate relationship with technology. I reap so much benefit from it yet I also complain about spending way too much time on my computer.

My partner and I live in different countries. Without the internet, IM, Skype etc., our relationship would not have blossomed. My parents live in another country and again, we use Skype and email to stay connected. I maintain relationship with my nephews and nieces through reading and commenting on their blogs. However, I do have to remind myself to shut my notebook and get physically away from it so my partner and I can engage in meaningful physical in-person activities.

I guess it is all about being mindful and intentional in what we do. The old fashion leather bound journal or the iPhone are just tools to help us manage our lives better and not the other way round.

Ming 3 December 2009 - 12:25 pm

Hi Darius
You ask a pertinent question and it is one that I have been thinking about a lot. My business publishes a product called RippleCards, which comes in a set of 48 cards in a wooden box. It’s a nice physical product which makes a great gift for self and others. We recently developed an iPhone app for it, also called RippleCards, to make it easier for our customers to use them in their daily life. Having the whole set of cards in the iPhone makes it so much easier to use them as a daily reminder to cultivate positive thoughts. When designing the app, the most difficult part of the consideration is how to make people use them. The product is good. The concept is good. But will people use it? I think we do a reasonably decent job to not trying to do too much. We focus on only two functions – 1) a reminder to face the day with a positive attitude and 2) connecting with other people. As the app is just launched, only time will tell if the app is successful or not.
My initial impression of the positive psychology apps available now is that there is an emphasis on educating people. So for people who are interested in the subject, the Live Happy app is a great crash course.

There are many other apps available that do not market themselves as PP but they focus on a particular PP intervention. Sometimes a simple app can be easier to use. I notice that a friend on facebook uses her status update as a savoring tool (not knowingly) while many people use it to complain about their life.

Eva Atkinson 3 December 2009 - 12:47 pm


May I post this article to my university’s Counseling Center website & facebook page?

Editor K.H.B. 3 December 2009 - 5:56 pm


Go for it. The reprint policy can be found here: https://positivepsychologynews.com/contact


Ming 4 December 2009 - 1:08 am

Dear Carin, Sarah and Jenn
Thank you for sharing your view and voicing the concern whether too much technology is a good thing when it comes to happiness. I do share your concern. I think technology on its own is neutral in value, and depending on how it is use, it can detract or enhance our well-being. iPhone is a device which can be used to record our experience, so is a notebook, or a camera. It is the responsibility of the users to ascertain the type or amount of usage which is beneficial. Camera can be a good thing for savoring later but if one incessantly takes photos on a holiday, one misses out of savoring the moment as one experiences it.
One thing we need to accept is that the new generation is used to typing on keyboard more than writing with pen and paper, they still write journal but in the blog form, and instead of keeping a secret diary, theirs is written to be read by others.
OK. Time for me to leave my computer alone and go out to the garden to enjoy the winter sun.


Deborah Barnett 21 June 2010 - 3:33 pm

This is a great way to spread positive psychology to the general public. I have felt that there is a strong need to get more of the Positive Psychology research into practical application. Here is one way to do it! I am also proposing a show to Oprah’s new network, to get Positive Psychology to the masses. http://tinyurl.com/Dr-DebAudition


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