iHappy apps for parents

People often think that happiness is elusive, the result of good fortune that can’t be predicted or controlled. Researchers in the field of positive psychology dispute that. Not only have they devised interesting ways to measure happiness, but they’ve also become convinced that people can increase their sense of well-being by deliberately cultivating a “positive emotional style.” For most people, this means changing habits, letting go of negative patterns, and adopting behaviors that boost happiness.

Of course, changing habits isn’t easy. Most people need constant reminders to stay on course. And that’s where smartphones enter the picture. A growing number of applications provide gentle reminders that may help you become a calmer, happier, more optimistic parent. That’s good for you, and it’s good for your kids, because research shows that children whose parents have a positive emotional style are more resilient and happier.

Here are just a few of the apps that promise to lift your mood:

Happiness Tracker is a good first step because it helps you become aware of your emotional state. Developed by a Harvard researcher who investigates what makes people happy, the app contacts you at random times and asks how you’re feeling and what you’re doing. The information goes into a database and you get periodic reports about how your happiness varies depending upon your circumstances. To sign up for the free app, visit trackyourhappiness.org and fill out a the questionnaire.

Live Happy is an app developed by Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychologist at the University of California, who has spent her career studying what makes people happy. The app encourages you to think about goals for yourself and your family, and then take baby steps to achieve them. It also encourages you to savor what is good about family life by arranging photos in an easily-accessible album that will trigger happy feelings. It reinforces meaningful social connections by prompting you to express gratitude to people who have made a difference in your life. (For the iPhone.)

Gratitude Stream focuses specifically on the thankful feelings that are correlated with happiness. Many psychologists recommend keeping an individual gratitude journal, but this app puts you in touch with what makes people around the world feel grateful. Seeing what triggers gratitude in other people can make you more attuned to good things in your life. One mom posted that she was grateful that her daughter missed the bus because it allowed them to spend an extra 30 minutes together that morning. (An iPhone app, Gratitude Stream is also available on Twitter and Facebook.)

Relaxation apps. For busy parents, of the best ways to get happy is to take a time out. The quick break offered by a relaxation app may revive your spirits and induce a sense of relaxation. The app Koi Pond turns your phone into an aquarium where you can watch fish, rearrange the lily pads, create ripples, and even induce the fish to nibble at your finger. White Noise immerses you in environments created by 40 soothing sounds, ranging from ocean waves to a Tibetan bowl. Zen Garden lets you create a tiny tranquil space where you can rake sand, arrange rocks, and read enigmatic quotations. (For iPhone.)

The Grouchies. When kids are happy, parents are happy. The Grouchies, a free app based on the book by the same name, has silly pictures and wacky rhymes that may just charm kids out of a grumpy mood. Released by the American Psychological Association, the app promises to boost emotional intelligence for children, and includes a helpful note to parents that offers advice about breaking the spell of a bad day. (Available for iPad.)

iCounselor Anxiety packs some of the benefits of cognitive therapy into an app so you can carry a counselor in your pocket. Developed by a psychologist and a social worker, the app asks you to rate your anxiety level, and then suggests a calming activity, as well as ways of revising the thoughts that provoke anxiety. Comparable programs are available for anger, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, and eating disorders. Although these programs aren’t a substitute for face-to-face counseling, at 99 cents, they provide an inexpensive way to reinforce the mental and emotional habits that make happiness more likely. (Available at icounselor.biz.)

By now, it may have occurred to you that many of the applications you already have on your phone contribute to your sense of well-being because they help you stay organized and connected — qualities that are definitely associated with happiness.

Any app that makes you laugh is also a good bet, especially if you can share it with your kids. So make funny faces with FaceGoo, play a round of Cool Mad Libs, or talk in goofy voices with Talking Carl. Come to think of it, those are all things you can do without the benefit of a Smartphone. With or without technology, the best happiness app seems to be staying alert, so you notice life’s joy whenever and wherever they appear.

Carolyn Jabs, MA, has been writing about families and the Internet for almost 20 years. Other Growing Up Online columns appear on her website www.growing-up-online.com.

Copyright © 2011, Carolyn Jabs. All rights reserved.