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
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 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 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.