While some businesses in the self-help industry attempt to sell unrealistic amounts of happiness, one Boston-based mindfulness app aims to make its users just ten-percent happier.
“10% Happier: Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics,” created by the Change Collective, aims to offer a more scientific approach to mindfulness to its users. The free, video-based app provides daily guided meditations and features experts who brought mindfulness from the East to the West in the 1960s and ‘70s. To aid users in daily practice, Change Collective Co-Founder and CEO Ben Rubin explained that the app also gives users a live chat feature that connects them to a mindfulness coach with over ten years of experience.
Instead of marketing the app, launched in 2015, as a method for attaining pure happiness, the team determined that users could realistically feel ten percent better with regular mindfulness practice, according to Rubin. Rubin said their mission also helps to “counter program” against the “BS” side of the self-help industry.
“The most interesting thing I’ve noticed is that, with most great spiritual traditions, the end-game is closer to becoming ‘okay’ with whatever’s happening rather than always being happy,” explained Rubin.“True happiness doesn’t come from constant dopamine hits of joy, but rather from developing an equanimity with whatever arises.”
Derek Haswell, Change Collective co-founder and vice president of product for 10% Happier, hopes the app will help make meditation more accessible. “We’re pushing back against the crystals, and the robes, and the incense associated with meditation. This is a mental skill that we’re training. We poke fun at ourselves and all of those things to make it more approachable.”
The app’s video content — which offers a comedic spin on mindfulness — is hosted by Nightline Co-Anchor and 10% Happier Co-Founder Dan Harris,as well as Joseph Goldstein, one of the first instructors to bring meditation to the West. Harris, who discovered the benefits of meditation after a live, on-air panic attack in 2004, chronicled his journey in the 2014 best-selling book, “10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works.”
“I always believed meditation was for people who wear peculi, listen to Cat Stevens records, play ultimate frisbee, and use the word namaste without irony … But then I saw the scientific research which suggests that meditation can do everything from lowering your blood pressure, to boosting your immune system, to literally rewiring your brain to make you happier, more focused, and less yanked around by your emotions,” Harris said in a video on 10percenthappier.com.
In 2015, the American Heart Association noted that meditation can lower risks of cardiovascular disease. A 2017 study published in the Journal for Alzheimer’s Disease also revealed that those who regularly practiced meditation and listened to music had significant improvements in memory function.
When speaking about mental wellness, Rubin said that practice is key for its effectiveness. “It’s not easy to work out and it’s not easy to meditate. We’re doing everything we can, from making notification systems, to coaches, to just having fun content to make getting over that hump as easy as possible.”
While the 10% team says they hope to help their users, they too have experienced benefits of mindfulness.
Haswell said he began meditating and attending mindfulness retreats after meeting Harris and Goldstein during the app’s development. “Intellectually, [meditation] was fascinating, and that’s really what drew me in. It got more challenging as it got deeper and I started uncovering more of the strongly held habit patterns of my mind.”
The father of two children says he’s used mindfulness most as a parent. “What you’re training is the skill to notice what’s happening in your mind, letting it be there and letting it move on through … Instead of getting carried away, you’re just noticing [negative thoughts] and responding more carefully to it. Kids are the equivalent of the insane voice in my head.” With two young children who can be hilarious, unpredictable and, on occasion, defiant, he adds that mindfulness helps him react calmly in different situations.
As well as promoting mental wellness, the app features lifestyle courses, such as a 12-day video segment on mindful eating developed by Dr. Jeff Brewer of UMass Medical Center, Haswell said, adding that the course helps people avoid overeating and stress eating,
“With meditation, the goal isn’t to start eating healthier or exercise more. What happens is those health benefits are kind of bi-products, or the result of paying closer attention,” Haswell added.
Haswell says the team is now embarking on a national tour to identify what holds people back from meditating. While Harris and Meditation Teacher Jeff Warren will talk to people about their meditation experience at pop-up booths, the 10% team will also visit research areas, sports teams, and celebrities who are promoting mindfulness strategies. They plan to use this feedback to make future courses for the app.
So far, the free download includes a seven-day introduction to meditation hosted by Harris and Goldstein. Users can pay to subscribe to a monthly or yearly plan for further mindfulness courses and a library of one-time meditations in the paid version of the app. Subscribers can also receive member benefits that include Q&As and other events with the meditation teachers and experts, according to Haswell.
The app currently has a four-star rating after over 600 reviews in the ITunes Store.
In regards to its feedback so far, Rubin said, “We love when people tell us we lied and that they’re actually 20 percent happier. We’ll undersell it all day, and if people benefit from it, that’s great.”
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