Everyone wants to be happy, that's for sure. The more we search for ways to gain happiness, however, the faster it eludes us. That doesn't mean the pursuit of happiness is a fruitless one. Indeed, happiness can be found easily just around the corner, but only if we know what it looks like.
Unfortunately, all the stresses and preoccupations we get with living such a fast-paced, high-tech life won't help us realize happiness even when it hits us right in the face. If you're like many people, you might have realized by now that happiness isn't all about making lots of money, or having the sexiest beach body, or getting married to the best catch in town. It's okay to have all of those, but those are simply the consequences of happiness rather than its causes.
Before we can enjoy the effects of being happy, we first have to be. Ironically, even if our overindulgences in technology have distracted us from life's simple pleasures that lead to lasting happiness, the very same technology can help us get back on track. You might think your smartphone simply lets you connect with your demanding boss even at 3 a.m. or mindlessly play Candy Crush Saga on the way home, but there are actually plenty of apps for dealing with stress and anxiety that can help you become a happier, healthier person.
Just keep in mind, though, that these apps are not silver bullets for your life's problems. They will not give you happiness—nothing will. They can only help you realize that being happy starts with your decision to be, and you can take it from there.
People who have difficulty going to sleep and staying asleep are plagued with stress and anxiety problems. It is helpful for them to make a point of relaxing just before bedtime, and this app can certainly help with that. Research has shown that music can help calm the nerves and help you fall asleep. Relax Melodies makes use of 48 relaxing ambient and nature sounds, ranging from ocean waves to white noise and even an oscillating fan, to help you ease your worries at bedtime. You can make your own mix out of these melodies and set a timer for them to stop playing when you fall asleep.
You might have been told to close your eyes and breathe during a particularly anxiety-inducing episode. And while it doesn't seem obvious just exactly how you can relax doing that, focusing on your breathing can actually help you let go of what's unimportant and center on the very thing that is keeping you alive right this very moment. Breathe2Relax is based upon the notion that mindful breathing, or simply turning your attention to your breath and away from everything else. This free app provides you several exercises on diaphragmatic breathing, or breathing from your stomach, which has been proven by science to decrease the body's fight-or-flight stress response. When you feel like your world is turning topsy-turvy, open this app, close your eyes and breathe.
Meditation is another great stress relief technique, besides offering plenty of other benefits it provides for your well-being. However, it can be difficult to meditate, especially for beginners, whose continuously chattering minds can stop them from thinking they are getting anything from the meditation. Headspace can help you with that by offering guided meditations that teach you how meditate so that you can eventually do so on your own. The first 10 days will give you 10 minutes of meditation for free, and after that you can decide to pay the monthly subscription of $12.99 to receive 10 more days of 15 and 20 minute meditations as well as meditations for various purposes, such as increased creativity, less stress and conscious eating.
Too often, we ask for more and more in hopes of being happy, but the truth is we simply have to look at what we already have to find what we're looking for. Being grateful for what we have is a great way to realize that we are actually more than blessed. These gratitude journaling apps for iOS and Android can help you become more appreciative of the things in your life by letting you record the highlights of your day and store them in your own virtual journal to look back on when you're feeling down. They even let you take pictures of these things and offer daily reminders so you don't forget to feel grateful every day. Gratitude Journal for iOS is $1.99, while Attitudes of Gratitude for Android is free.
5. The Worry Box (Android)
Wouldn't it be great if you could take all your worries, put them in a box and just leave them there instead of having to carry them around everywhere you go? That is what The Worry Box is for, a virtual box where you can place all your stresses and let them fade away in there. This app also builds upon cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques, a proven method to relieve stress, anxiety and depression to help you manage worry and learn how to cope with your stresses, whether they are controllable or not. It will also give you access to relaxation audios and articles that teach you how CBT works.
6. Personal Zen (iOS)
If ever there was a game developed to ease your stresses, it's not Candy Crush Saga and it's most definitely not Angry Birds. It's Personal Zen, an iOS-only app that helps you train your brain to focus on the positive things. Personal Zen has been clinically proven, complete with a study published in the Clinical Psychological Science journal, to lower the anxiety levels of people prone to anxiety. The game takes place on a plane of green grass, where two blue sprites, one with a happy face and one with an angry face, bury themselves under the grass. Once they're gone, your goal is to trace the line that leads to the hole of the happy face. It's easy enough, and you only need to play 25 minutes every day to get the app's benefits.
Lack of sleep or low-quality sleep may be what's causing your stress right now, and hacking your sleep cycles may be the solution to your worries. Sleep Cycle and Sleep as Android are smart alarm clock apps that track your sleep via your phone's sensors and wake you up during the lightest sleep phase so you don't wake up groggy. You'll have access to detailed graphs about how you sleep and will even be able to analyze how various factors, such as your levels of physical activity or a meeting with your boss, affect your sleep patterns. Both apps also offer nature sounds and binaural beats to help you fall asleep faster and deeper. Sleep Cycle is $1.99, while Sleep as Android gives you sleep tracking features free for the first two weeks before charging you $4.49.
Exercise is a great way to boost your mood, and it has plenty of other benefits besides. But between work, family and your social obligations, not a lot of people have time to go to the gym or do an hour's worth of working out. The seven-minute workout aims to solve that problem. If you don't have an hour for a workout, it's still likely you have seven minutes. It's just seven minutes, but it's seven minutes of intense bodyweight exercises, from squats to push-ups and planks, to make you feel you've worked out for an hour.
When you're aware of what you feel and you know what's driving these emotions, it's easier to get a grip on your worries. My Mood Tracker and T2 Mood Tracker help you track your moods and find out why you're feeling that way. For instance, you might realize that your menstrual cycle is nearing its end, which is why you're feeling particularly destructive. Or you might find a link between your positive outlook and your workout days. My Mood Tracker is free for the lite version, but if you want your full mood history, you'll need to pay $4.99 to get the full version. T2 Mood Tracker, on the other hand, is free.
For most of us, we spend majority of our waking hours at work, so it only makes sense that our employers take our stresses and anxieties seriously. Plasticity is an app that offers to address workplace happiness with short training activities to improve emotional intelligence and deepen relationships between coworkers. Every day, instead of whining and complaining about your boss, you'll be asked to name one aspect of your work that you are grateful for. For some people, it may not be much, but the mere fact of having something to earn a living with when so many others are starving is enough.
Eighty-six percent of people who use Happify report that they feel happier after two months of using the app. That's because Happify is based on the five things that make us happy: thanking, giving, savoring, empathizing and aspiring. Upon opening the app, you can choose a track among many based on what you want to achieve, such as coping better with stress, dealing with negative thoughts or building self-confidence. Then you will be given various daily activities, games and quizzes to help you achieve your goal. One of these activities is Shine On, which lets you list three of your day's biggest victories. It's like a gratitude journal that helps keep you aware of the good things happening to you. Happify is free for the lite version, but you can also unlock more content activities with various subscriptions ranging from $11.99 to $55.99.
Simple acts of kindness, and not winning millions in the lottery, is what makes happy people. Giving opens up our hearts to receive more, and when we receive more, we are encouraged to give more. Doing acts of service, even small ones such as paying for the next person's cup of coffee, is an effective stress reliever because it shows you how even your smallest deeds can change the world. The Pay It Forward app, developed by the Pay It Forward movement, encourages you to do these acts of kindness every day by offering a list of suggestions on what to do and connects you with a greater community of good Samaritans who have even more recommendations when you're running out. Pay It Forward is $0.99 for both iOS and Android.
Photo: Moyan Brenn | Flickr