Meet The Smartphone App That's On A Mission To Make You Nicer

Who said technology had to be a bad thing?

13/02/2016 1:08 AM AEDT | Updated 13/02/2016 7:07 AM AEDT
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By now it's no secret that meditation can transform a person's whole mindset, but rarely do we set aside the time -- or our phones -- to do it. So ABC News host and meditator Dan Harris decided to work with our tech-obsessed culture instead of against it. 

The result? An app called 10% Happier, designed to fit meditation into your busy lifestyle.

Aptly named after Harris' best-selling book on mindfulness, the program takes a followable, no-frills approach with daily meditation assignments, personal meditation coaches and a large variety of videos from expert instructors to help people navigate the practice.

Smartphone overindulgence can wreak havoc on your well-being if not used mindfully -- studies show too much tech can mess with your sleep, your self-esteem and even your physical health -- but well-being apps can be a counterintuitive antidote if executed properly. Research on smartphone programs is scarce and mildly disheartening (a 2015 study found a majority of depression apps recommended by the National Health Service show no evidence they help). But that doesn't necessarily mean users -- or developers, for that matter -- should throw in the towel. In fact, it should encourage more innovation.

As Kathryn Noth, a clinical psychologist with the Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies at Northwestern University, explained to The Week, therapy and stress apps could be a useful supplement to professional treatment.

"I definitely think [apps] will be integrated into therapy more and more, and that's a good thing," she told the publication last year. "I don't think this will in any way take the place of therapy. I think it's an adjunct, an add-on, that will increase access to people who wouldn't be able to walk through my door."

Given the commonality of stress and mental illness, well-functioning apps are necessary. Well-being apps like 10% Happier join the ranks of other initiatives like Headspace, Koko and Talk Space, which are designed to encourage users to make positive changes in their lives. If it helps ease stress or encourages someone to get help in just the smallest way, then it's already doing a world of good.

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One of the master instructors involved with 10% Happier is Sharon Salzberg, an expert in lovingkindness meditation, which centers on compassion and can lead to improvements in emotional intelligence and a decreased stress response

"Meditation in general is like a skills training," she told The Huffington Post. "But you have to keep practicing it for a while. It's not an automatic fix. The app has highly experienced teachers to help with progress so it'll be a great way to either begin that training or help you reinforce it if you've already started practicing meditation." 

As Salzberg explains, one of the biggest strides in well-being doesn't come when a person is using the app, but in the aftermath of the activity.

"The place to look for the benefit of meditation is in your life, not necessarily in that formal period of practice," Salzberg said. "You may not be sitting in bliss when you're meditating, but you'll find you're different in the way you speak to yourself when you've made a mistake. You're more resilient. You're kinder when you meet a stranger. That's really why you meditate."

Salzberg hopes 10% Happier and other like-minded apps reach a mass audience. Meditation has the power to improve virtually every facet of a person's life; studies show the practice boasts benefits like a better mood, higher sleep quality and even positive changes in the brain.

"This has the opportunity to reach people all around the world who could never really get to a meditation retreat," she explained. "I think it's a fantastic medium."

A kinder, calmer mindset from just a few minutes (and swipes) a day? We'd have to agree.

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