A new website catering to the stressed out, emotionally unfulfilled, and generally down called Happify is launching publicly today backed by $3.8 million in seed funding. Its goal? To bring the latest scientific advancements in positive psychology and positive neuroscience to consumers in the form of games, activities and exercises designed to “hack your inner self” and “optimize your well-being.” Or at least that’s how co-founder Ofer Leidner puts it.
Leidner previously co-founded and built several digital media businesses, most recently iPlay/Oberon Media (a casual games company, where he had executive roles), as well as Gate42 Technologies, a software startup in the customer relations space which he also co-founded. Meanwhile, Happify CTO and co-founder Andy Parsons has served as CTO at several companies including Outside.in (acquired by AOL), Bookish and Digital Railroad.
The two believe that technology and interactive experiences can help deliver more meaningful services, Leidner tells TechCrunch. These services can be “actually healthier, time well spent and lead users to a happier more fulfilling life,” he says. “The concepts innovate at the intersection of the science of happiness, quantified approach and human emotions.”
It may sound like a bunch of feel-good babble, but Happify isn’t alone in targeting those using online and mobile platforms to go after the modern-day self-help crowd. A number of companies have also attempted to reach this audience including: relaxation resource Calm.com, social motivation app Carrot, goal setting site Wishberg, dream-focused Everest, goal tracker and self-improvement app Lift, and many others.
The games and activities in Happify are based on concepts from a decade’s worth of science from UPenn, Harvard, and Stanford, Leidner explains. “Happify partnered with leading scientists in the field, engagement designers and marketers to create an experience that help develop emotional skills shown by the scientists to lead to greater wellbeing,” he says.
On the site, tracks have four parts that guide you through a week’s worth of content, all designed to boost your overall happiness by focusing on areas like: building self-confidence, fueling your career success, and coping better with stress.
I haven’t had long enough to test the service to confirm its claims here, though I’m a prime candidate for stress reduction right now. So far, all I’ve managed to do is walk through the introductory quiz and play a simple game where you pop hot air balloons with “positive” words on them, like “luck,” “jubilant,” “great,” “joy,” “hope,” etc. (My three-year old had a similar game, but it involved tapping the balloons to learn her colors instead.) I don’t feel happier or less stressed by this activity alone, but Happify takes time to have an effect, I’m told.
The company claims that 86% of the users showed an increase in their happiness score after 8 weeks of regular use, and the average time spent per user per session is about 20 minutes, with members returning 2-3 times per week to practice their emotional skills.
Call it the power of positive thinking.
I tend to raise a skeptical eyebrow at services like these. After all, companies like Lumosity claimed to be able to “train your brain” using games that make you smarter, and for years, consumers bought into its pseudo-science, which later was revealed to be largely bogus (despite what you may have read elsewhere.) Similarly, Happify is leveraging research, while arguably with good intentions, but in a way that’s not definitively quantifiable at this point in time.
Will the majority of users really become happier? Will an online solution mean users who are actually clinically depressed, or suffering from an emotional or mental disorder think they can fix their feelings, DIY-style? Will those it could potentially help, follow through with their coursework for the months it takes to have an effect? Would they have been better served by therapy?
There are a lot of questions which self-help resources, like Happify, can’t really answer. But even if you try and fail to achieve a happier state of being, it probably didn’t hurt you to give it a go.
That being said, it’s clearly not for everyone.
Happify is a freemium subscription service, with 20 four-part tracks, 10 of which are free. The additional eight are included with the Happify Plus membership option. Happify costs $14.95 per month, $6.95 for month for one year and $4.95/month for two years.
Investors in the startup’s seed round for Happify include Founder Collective, BtoV Partners, and angels including Eric Aroesty, Lewis Katz, Craig Kallman, Brian Bedol, David Kleinhandler, Founder Collective, BtoV Partners.
The New York-based company was founded in December 2011, and has a team of nine. The service has been in private beta for the past six months, to test its concepts with 100,000 members. The subscription plan was offered to users three months ago, and Leidner says it’s now seeing good initial growth in terms of paying subscribers.
Now that it has launched to the public, the company is focusing on its Happify iPhone app which it plans to bring to the App Store soon. In the meantime, interested users, the stressed and sad, can try Happify for themselves here.