Editor's note: Diane R. Girardot, a writer and psychotherapist in private practice in Chadds Ford, filed this dispatch from the American Psychological Association conference in Washington, D.C. Aug. 7-10.
I can’t resist:
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you.
Because I'm happy!
Clap along if you feel like that's what you wanna do.
Thank you, Pharrell Williams.
And thank you to positive technology for helping us pursue happiness habits, gratitude, and wellbeing - all on our smart phones and laptops.
The American Psychological Association conference in Washington, D.C., Aug. 7-10, would be bereft without a session on the latest trend in self-help known as "positive technology." Born from the field of positive psychology, there really is an "app for that" when it comes to assessing, measuring and tracking emotions and behaviors that help improve a users quality of life.
Acacia Parks, who spent 7 years in Center City Philadelphia as a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, studied the science of happiness and made a career of it. Now a positive psychology professor at Hiram University in Ohio, she moonlights as the science consultant at a three-year-old web-based company called Happify.
The Happify site is real world use of some of Parks' research on components she calls tasks to achieve greater happiness: savor, thank, aspire, give and empathize. Each task is tailored to fit a particular intervention called a track. There are many tracks such as Coping Better With Stress, Conquering Negative Thoughts or Finding Success at Work. The tracks utilize different combinations of the five fundamental tasks and if user stay interested and return to the site three or more times a week, they will see benefits, she adds.
The task of savoring a moment, for example, can help you be mindful of the sensory pleasure of a hot shower, or of joyful memories, or shared delight over a pregnancy. Showing gratitude also feels good; which translates to feeling happier. Writing a letter to someone thanking them for the things they have done for you and reading it to them is a powerful boost to happiness.
"There is an infusion of positive emotion," Parks said, adding that the activities suggested on the website started out and still function in therapeutic settings as successful positive psychology interventions for clinical depression, schizophrenia, chronic pain, smoking cessation, and even for post-heart surgery patients.
Happify is not meant to treat depression or other serious mental illness, however. Parks stressed that it was created and is used to "habitually cultivate little pockets of happiness" - like the moments at a funeral when people share a laugh over a funny story about the deceased loved one.
"Happiness gets flack for being temporary and fleeting, but a lot can happen in the couple of seconds a negative feeling expands to a positive one," Parks said.
Negative emotions have been found to make people focus, while positive emotions help them see the bigger picture, she said: "Someone who is tired, angry or sad will mope and focus on the misery. Infusing a positive thought and behavior broadens attention and changes the mindset."
Robert Emmons, psychology professor at UC Davis, joined Parks at the podium Friday in support of the popular positive psychology concept of gratitude that proponents claim to have linked to helping reduce cholesterol levels.
"Being thankful matters, it works," Emmons said, based on 15 years of his own research on the miracle of gratitude that primarily affirms there are good things in the world. The only problem with it is that people need to remember to be grateful.
That's where positive technology can help. Emmons said social media like Facebook and Twitter are great memory aids as well as venues to relay thankfulness; gratitude "apps" can sound alarms or facilitate daily journaling; and websites like Happify can help you schedule and keep up with gratitude tasks.
The internet is also being used to assess and improve wellbeing for individuals as well as corporate groups. WoW, (WorkonWellbeing.com), an online wellbeing assessments site, has been up and running for six months. Aaron Jarden of the Aukland University of Technology in New Zealand, speaking alongside Parks and Emmons, said wellbeing drives engagement in the workplace, which drives productivity and ultimately success.
The website already has 20 million users, said Jarden, who boils positive psychology down to a three-minute video. "Organizations want to know how well they are doing in the employee wellbeing department," he explained. "We provide a measure and personalized report of the results to the entire organization every 30 days to keep wellbeing on the table regularly."
Jarden developed the WoW assessment of 50 questions along the lines of a traditional "flourishing scale" that measures how well someone is doing and why. The why is important to understand what needs to change or stay the same to make an organization a great place to work.
Work on Wellbeing is free for individuals and "cheap" for organizations, said Jarden. Happify charges for Premium Tracks but most of Parks' original track and task combinations are free. Gratitude apps are mostly free. And free should make you happy.