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Review by expert Jason Moehringer, PsyD

Pros

  • Provides education on “happiness” and wellbeing based on concepts derived from mindfulness and Eastern philosophy
  • Includes a 119-item test designed to identify personality traits and behavioral routines that contribute to subjective happiness
  • Prompts users to create and store personal affirmations
  • Contains an extensive list of behaviors and thoughts, referred to by the app as Suggestions, that can increase subjective happiness
  • Free to download and access does not require a subscription
  • Some education delivered in both text and audio formats
  • Various customizable options, including visual and security/privacy features

Cons

  • Educational concepts do not always reflect expert consensus
  • Interface is outdated and may pose a challenge for users with vision problems or fine motor control issues
  • Limited interactive components
  • Important features (e.g., links to full versions of articles) require internet access/data usage
  • AchieveMint feature is essentially nonfunctional

Description

Happy Habits: Choose Happiness is an Android™ app for use with version 2.0 and later. The app was created by Monica A. Frank, Ph.D., a clinical and sports psychologist, d/b/a Excel At Life. Drawing on concepts derived from mindfulness and Eastern philosophy, the app provides basic information about general life satisfaction and wellbeing, referred to as “happiness” in the app. There are a variety of additional features included, such as a lengthy personality test, an affirmations page, and a “Suggestions” function to help users practice thoughts and behaviors that are more likely to result in subjective feelings of contentment. Several of the educational articles are presented in both audio and text formats, and are intended to teach users skills for relaxation and mindfulness.

Unfortunately, the app is visually unappealing and can be difficult to use on the smaller screens of smartphones. It also has very few interactive components. Additionally, while many individuals have no trouble integrating elements of Eastern philosophy into their daily routines, this app may have limited applicability for users who are not interested in concepts derived from this school of thought.

Security/Privacy/Data Sharing

The app was first launched in January 2013 and the current version (2.2.1) was released in May 2014. The app has a clearly described privacy policy in which it is stated that only basic usage information is collected by the app for the purposes of making improvements, that any personal information is not shared with third parties (except AchieveMint for those who may have been able to opt-in at an earlier date), and that the only geo-location data collected is country of residence. It is also stated that the Android backup service is utilized by the app so that users can save their entries in the Journal and Suggestions features, but that it cannot be guaranteed that this information will be maintained by Google and that this information may be subject to use by Google. No other disclosed information sharing or data gathering functions are included in the app.

Ease of Use and User Experience

The app is presented in bright, somewhat jarring colors, but obvious care has been taken to make it as enjoyable as possible for users. However, the user experience suffers significantly from the antiquated and unintuitive interface. Users who have difficulty reading or sustaining attention, or who have problems with extended use of screens, may be frustrated by the primarily text-based presentation of the information in the app. These limitations may lead users to have difficulty engaging with the app over a sufficient amount of time to fully retain the educational material and/or practice the mindfulness relaxation techniques.

Scientific Basis

The app bases its educational materials, guided practice exercises, and therapeutic recommendations on both mindfulness theory and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy; the first has some empirical support in addressing common psychological complaints and stress, while the second is a well-researched category of treatments for mild-moderate psychiatric and psychological issues. Unfortunately, the app’s focus on “happiness” (i.e. general satisfaction and contentment) excludes many traditional CBT components that have also been shown to be helpful in coping with mental distress. Additionally, this app has not itself been studied in clinical trials or compared to other eMental Health programs.

Cost

The app is free to download and use, and no restrictions are placed on the user or any of the app’s features. No subscription is ever required.

Overall

This app contains useful information and practical resources for individuals who feel chronically unsatisfied with their lives and unable to address the obstacles that prevent them from improving their situation. It is free to use, and therefore accessible to anyone with a smartphone. However, it is far from comprehensive and relies on a philosophy that may not be appealing for all users. It also has only very limited interactive components and the interface is outdated and can be difficult to use. Therefore, while it may be a useful source of information and practice in cognitive restructuring, it should not be the primary method for treating mental illness for any person. To their credit, the developer makes a similar recommendation.

Review date: April 2016

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