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An app for happiness? How I tried to stay upbeat via download

I've always known I could be less stressed and happier. But I didn't realize my well-being could improve with the help of a happiness app.
/ Source: TODAY

Let's face it. Being happy is easier said than done.

I have always known that I could be less stressed and happier — who couldn’t, right? But I never knew how a few subtle and simple changes could add up to make a big difference in my overall well-being. I definitely didn’t realize that the change would come with the help of an app.

Stacey Naggiar at Mount Rainier
At Mount Rainier.

Type "happiness", "well-being" or “mindfulness” into the iphone App Store and you'll find well over 1,000 options to help improve your mood. Some apps are free and others cost as much as $20. As part of our TODAY "Secrets of Happiness" series, I decided to try one out for myself: a free app called, Happier.

My first impression was that the app was a kind of social network specifically designed to post moments that I’m grateful for, a place where I could share public updates about happy moments and other users could “smile” at my post.

CEO and co-founder of Happier Nataly Kogan tells TODAY the mobile tool should be seen as a “gym for the soul” and that the tips and courses are backed by science. Her goal, she says, is to democratize happiness.

“It is accessible to everybody. It’s already there in your life you just have to look for that moment.” Unlike other popular social media outlets, “Happier is a unique place and community where you come and connect with other like-minded wellness seekers,” she explained.

Turns out, happiness is big business. Launched in 2013, over 5 million moments have been shared on Happier and they now have over 700,000 registered users both on the web and mobile.

A year ago, Kogan’s team expanded the app beyond a gratitude journal adding courses, modules designed for use within the app to give users tips and encouragement in their happiness quest.

I started my happier experience with one of the 10-day courses called, “Attitude: Gratitude” taught by the CEO herself.


My first day using the app, I was skeptical about the approach to pick a small moment to focus on. and I struggled trying to find a moment in my day that I was grateful for. Nothing quite seemed to meet the bar. Ultimately I decided on, "Catching up on life with my roomie who I barely get to see."

To be frank, this felt silly.

I would never post something this mundane to any of my other social accounts. But it's true, in our crazy hectic lives my roommate and I live like ships passing in the night. I’m grateful when we get the rare chance to fill each other in. To my surprise, five users have “smiled” at this post, that’s more likes than I get on some Instagram pictures. I was relieved to know that any moment, no matter how small, counts as a moment worth noticing and appreciating.

It’s easy to think that big life transformations like a new job or moving to a new city will be the key to happiness but it’s actually small changes that have the greatest impact.

Happiness researcher and professor of psychology at UC Riverside Sonja Lyubomirsky tells NBC News that “one of the sure fire ways to make yourself unhappy is to have too high expectations and aspirations and make yourself believe that you'll only be happy when X-Y-Z happen. Research shows that happiness is really internal.”

As I continued with the happier “Attitude: Gratitude” course I learned the following:

As social beings, our ties and relationships with people make us happy.

It’s rewarding to let someone know that they matter and that you are grateful for them. I chose to share a moment of gratitude for a colleague and later in the week I shared gratitude for my mom.

Testing a happiness app
Sharing gratitude with my mom.Stacey Naggiar

Try to savor the sweet things, literally!

Being present in the moment requires intention and focus. And what better to focus on than that ice cream on a hot summer day? Kogan explained that by capturing these moments with a few sentences or a picture we are registering them in our brains.

Creating a daily gratitude ritual was the most difficult task for me.

The goal, to use a simple event in everyday life as a cue to take a moment and give gratitude, does not lend itself to the nature of my multitasking life that lacks routine. Yet, walking home from work one night I realized this is something I do every day. This could be my cue. Instead of checking emails, making phone calls or even listening to music on my walk home. I now designate it as a time to reflect on something I am grateful for each day.

Watch this 5-minute meditation lesson. It's easy!

I still have five days left in the course and am eager to see what else Happier has to offer. The fact remains — achieving happiness is tough and requires practice.

Our brains are on autopilot to focus on negative things, “[but] we can retrain our brain by practicing gratitude and by connecting with others,” says Kogan.

For me the road to happiness with an app like Happier in the palm of my hands is much easier than going after it alone. I’m embracing Kogan’s approach to “stop saying, I’ll be happy when ... and start saying, I’m happier now because ... . ”