“Track your happiness”: an app that can gauge mental health?

“Track your happiness”: an app that can gauge mental health?

Since humanity’s creation, we have sought happiness. It’s a state of being acquired by a person who is "fully satisfied" with themselves and with the world around them, despite their problems, their fragilities, their own pain and that of those around them...

This incessant search often leads us down the wrong path. How many times do we meet people who, despite having everything – money, a stable job, good health, lots of things – still feel empty inside?

Aristotle said this all the way back in the third century B.C., in his Nichomachaen Ethics: Bliss depends on virtue and seeks out what is good.

Victor Frankl, the Austrian psychiatrist who survived Auschwitz, wrote about happiness in his work "Man in Search of Meaning." It was in the camp that he discovered that men who had something to live for survived longer in that nightmarish prison.

In recent decades, many researchers have attempted to quantify happiness. One of them is Matthew Killingsworth, an American who did his PhD on this topic at Harvard in 2009.

Together with his mentor, he designed the "Track your happiness" app, with which he intended to monitor many people’s level of happiness throughout the day.

The project was ambitious. It had never before been possible to assess such a large sample, responding in situ about their moods. All the candidates had to do was download the app on their iPhones (since it’s only available for Apple products). After the download completed, they would begin to receive survey-like notifications throughout the day.

Each notification was a survey question. It would prompt the person to describe the situation they were in at that moment and then continue to ask further questions about what was going on, where the person was, and how they were feeling at that exact moment.

For every 50 responses, the app generated a custom happiness report that would be helpful for the person. This information would help the person to take note of things that had made him unhappy so that he could do something differently next time.

An app that improves mental health

It has been proven through several studies that the more time a person spends behind a screen, the worse the state of their mental health. We must acknowledge that the doctoral student had good intentions and that maybe this study could help people to use their devices more wisely, improving their overall happiness.

Killingsworth comes to the following conclusions:

1. Paradoxically, vastly improved conditions of human life – like having bigger houses, more powerful technology, better healthcare – have resulted in only modest improvements in happiness.

2. Factors such as exercise, meditation, volunteering, a good sleep routine, a balanced diet, etc., affect happiness more positively.

3. Life's blows directly affect happiness: job loss, death of a family member or friend, illness, etc.

4. Being close to others brings us our greatest fulfillment – being able to count on someone and, most importantly, feel cared for.

5. A wandering mind is an unhappy mind:

a. We misremember the past. We tend to focus on the negative.

b. We escape into fantasizing about the future, dreaming of something better than what we have.

6. The key to happiness is to live in the moment and be fully in the here and now.

And does the app work when you're depressed?

Track your happiness can be useful for people who have “ups and downs,” as long as a person’s mood isn’t severely compromised by something like a mental health problem.

For a person with mental illness, such as severe depression, we would not see the same result. We should keep in mind that this illness is characterized by apathy (lack of motivation) and anhedonia (lack of pleasure). People with depression typically do not have the courage to respond to surveys. In addition, these are people who suffer from an illness and need to surround themselves with people and not be left alone with their phones, isolated from the world.

There is still a stigma around those who suffer from depression. Clearly, you don't understand this particular condition if you think the disease will get better through an app.

Regardless, you can be happy no matter what difficulty you may be facing.

To get a happy population, both those who suffer from an illness and those who are mentally healthy need to learn to identify their purpose in life, as Frankl argues. Happiness doesn’t come from accumulating lots of things or by living selfishly. Rather, we need to learn to freely give our best efforts to our neighbors and to God, using our talents to serve Him.

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