Apps: Happify

Uses games to help you smash your negative thoughts – but does it help?
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I have had depression and anxiety since I was 15. I know it is something I will always have. I may have times I am better or worse than others, but it will always be there. I just do my best to keep going as much as I can.

When Spooniehacker offered me the chance of trying some of the many mental health apps around to see if they were helpful, I thought I’d give it a go. A bit of research showed that I had a *lot* of options to choose from, with prices ranging from completely free to annual memberships of up to $135. I chose the free version of Happify to start with because I liked that it mentioned using games as part of the ‘program’.

The basics

Happify is described as “an app you can load onto your phone that brings you effective tools and programs to take control of your emotional well-being. Aimed at those feeling stressed, anxious, depressed, or who are dealing with constant negative thoughts, it uses techniques developed by leading scientists and experts who’ve been studying evidence-based interventions in the fields of positive psychology, mindfulness and cognitive behavioural therapy for decades.”

There are over 30 different ‘tracks’, each with a different focus. You choose which one you want to work on. Each track has four levels, and you do one level per week. There are around 7-10 tasks per level; some of the tasks are only available to paying members but you can skip those and move to the next level as long as you complete the other tasks.

Other reviewers said

The reviews on the App Store leaned heavily towards the positive, and the app scores a solid 3.7/5. Most of the negative reviews seem to focus on the cost of the premium service, and the app crashing if your phone doesn’t have enough memory. I also noticed a few people saying they couldn’t progress because they didn’t have premium, but I think they missed that you have to wait a day for activities to open up, this is to help pace you so, you learn the lessons better. The positives seem to talk about the games, and how they help recondition your brain.

“While I don’t necessarily feel “happier” after using Happify, I do feel more prepared to cope with negativity.” (Christina Sterbenz, Features Editor for Business Insider UK).

“Generally, I was pleasantly surprised by the effect the site’s tasks had on me, it really has made me aware of how negative and cynical I am. It’s the small things that have changed, I have actively found myself making a mental note of when something has cheered me up, I stop myself when I am about to fly into a rage about everyone else’s bad driving, I also no longer talk about any negative event that happened in work once I am finished for the day.” (Bear, ManVFat website)

“Whatever skills I’ve gained through Happify manifest in subtle and sneaky ways. I do think I might be a little better at realizing when I need to take a break, at forgiving myself for mistakes and letting things be finished, even if they’re not perfect.” (Julie Beck, senior editor – Family and Education – at The Atlantic.)

Content warning

Some of the more in-depth activities might bring up negative associations for some. There are also tasks that require self-reflection and processing of painful emotions, which could be difficult if you have a lot to process, unless you have access to a face to face therapist or similar to help you work through what arises. However, the app is quite good at giving you a few options so you can find the one that will suit you best.

How I tested it

I tested this over the space of two months. I tried two different tracks: Conquer Negative Thoughts and Cope Better With Stress. These two tracks had some similar themes but the approaches were different (with a few repeated tasks). I also had the notifications for the app turned on so it would remind me daily to complete a task. Technically you should complete a level per week but if you go over the time or forget to log in it will still let you continue.

What worked?

I really liked the ‘negative knockout’ game. This is similar to the game Angry Birds but you are firing ‘happiness cannon balls’ to destroy your ‘concrete negative thoughts’. I actually found this really useful. I got to pick my negative thought phrases, and then blast them, and (especially on bad days) it really helped lift my mood.

Another good game was called Uplift. This featured images of hot air balloons – you have to click the ones with positive words, and ignore the negative ones. There were also some lovely meditation scenes (both guided and with just background noise), as well as some useful journaling elements in which I answered questions and performed tasks designed to help me break negative thought cycles.

I also liked that in the description for each activity it told me what the purpose of that specific activity was and what it wanted me to achieve in doing it.

What didn’t?

I struggled with some of the diary tasks; they were either worded poorly, or were just things I couldn’t do at that time. Eg: ‘Think of a time this week where this situation occurred; how did you deal with it, what could you have changed?’. I work at home alone, so many of these weren’t really relevant to me, but in most of those cases I tried to come up with what I would have done/would do in the situation.

Would I recommend?

I would definitely recommend this, even just the free version. Although if I used this again I would absolutely upgrade so I had access to the additional stats, tasks, tracks, and levels. I got along great with the free version and I do feel it was helping me, and I would have liked to see if I would have gotten more benefit from the upgraded version.

Happify is available on the Apple and Google Play stores. It is free to download and use, but the free use is limited. The cost of an upgrade is $14.95 per month or $139.95 per year.

See all our health reviews.

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