Nataly Kogan had achieved the American dream – or so she thought. She was a teenager when she and her parents arrived in the United States as refugees. Her mission was clear: she’d make a lot of money and be successful. The only problem was that despite many professional successes, Kogan’s body couldn’t keep up. She became so run down that she developed an adrenal deficiency. Once a go-getter, she couldn’t get out of bed.
After making many changes – including writing down three things she was grateful for each day, taking the time to pause, and doing yoga – Kogan completely changed her outlook on life. Before she knew it, she’d moved to Boston to be near family and started Happier, Inc., a company that seeks to inspire millions of people to be happier in their everyday lives with a mobile app, online courses and a strong community.
We spent time this week with Kogan to learn about how Happier Inc. makes a difference in people’s lives and the benefits of integrating her programming into our chaotic healthcare system.
Q: How would you describe Happier, Inc., to someone who’s never heard of it?
I’d describe Happier as a personal life coach in your pocket. You’re going to the gym and doing Weight Watchers because you want to be in good health. Think about your mind as something you can improve in a similar way. Our app and courses help get you there. It’s almost like a spa for your brain.
Q: Why should a physician or a nurse consider recommending this to their patients?
There are more and more clinicians coming on board as champions – not just for our company but for the concept that we have a lot of control over our minds and our emotional wellbeing. We look at clinicians as our partners and champions. Over the last 10 to 15 years, there has been a lot of scientific research that shows evidence of concrete health impacts that derive from focusing on gratitude.
With a more grateful mindset, people can learn to pay attention to the positive experiences in their daily lives – it certainly makes life more fun. People can learn to create a more optimistic outlook and, thereby, reduce stress in their lives. And stress is at the foundation of many of our health problems. With a more optimistic outlook, people have fewer heart attacks and fewer colds. Even people with cancer will be more likely to go into remission.
Q: Tell me about Happier’s impact on our community here in Boston.
I’d rather share this with you in the words of a person who wrote to us; their words follow:
“Hello Team Happier!
I just wanted to say a quick but BIG thank to you all. I live with depression, so I’m very grateful to have stumbled across your site & Nataly’s moving TEDxBoston talk; it’s all helping to shift my mindset to a more positive place – thank you so much!
My new mantra (borrowed from another of Nataly’s talks) is ‘You can look at any day of your life through a different lens’. That was such a powerful statement, thank you Nataly.
Wishing you all a wonderful day!
Q: There are a lot of full-length books and videos out there that emphasize the relationship between gratitude and happiness. Why did you decide to use “bite-sized” content in the Happier app and your courses?
At our core as people, we’re all pretty entrenched in what we already do. Big changes are hard to make and stay committed to. It’s really hard. It’s better to start with tiny, tiny steps and keep doing those steps frequently.
Our lives are busy and stressful. All of us juggle a ton of things, so it’s hard to find time for long classes or books or workshops. You can go and read books on this, but that takes a lot of time and willpower. On top of that, workshops and therapists aren’t readily accessible to many people because of time and finances. At Happier, we do it with you. We’re always with you to inspire and instruct you.
One of the nurses who uses our apps says she wants to learn about becoming more positive, more grateful. But she doesn’t have the time. She has a few minutes every day to improve or connect with the community on the Happier app to remind her that it’s a choice to be more positive.
Q: What are some of your more popular courses?
It’s a little hard to say. We guide people to our gratitude or meditation course based on their answers to some questions. Gratitude is the huge topic for us – it’s the idea of not taking life for granted.
Scientifically speaking, you can re-train your brain to look for positive things. That requires a shift away from a perspective of “I’ll be happy when….” to “I’m happier now.” You focus on something tiny that’s positive. Over time, your brain starts to look for those things. The idea is getting you into the habit of doing that and capturing those moments.
Q: How would you coach a physician or nurse on recommending Happier to their patients?
First, talk to your patient about the scientific proof of how being happier connects to their health. There are many studies that prove this. If you try a new thing for 21 days in a row, you’ll start to develop the habit and you’ll start to see improvements in your life. You’ll be less stressed and more optimistic. And those benefits last.
Second, give it a shot. A woman in an audience once said to me, “This is not for me. I’m not this kind of person.” It’s hard to argue with that. But you can mention that 40 percent of our experience is how we look at it. Tell your patients to give it a shot and remove judgment. Tell them to download the Happier app on their smartphone and take the “Attitude of Gratitude” course. This helps make being happier a small part of their day.
Third, ask them to think about their own emotional state and rate it from one to ten. Are they really down and depressed? Tell them to use Happier for a week. More often than not, they’ll report improvements.
Aine (“ONya”) Cryts is an on-staff contributing writer for MedTech Boston. She's a political scientist by education, a writer and marketer by trade. She has written for various healthcare technology publications and also served as marketing director at several healthcare software companies in the Boston area. Cryts is an avid volunteer, pet lover and long-distance runner. Story ideas are always welcome.
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