Can An App Actually Make You Happier?

Nataly Kogan, creator of the new Happier app, has taken a fair share of guff about her vision. But she gave up being defensive, and instead uses the criticism to hone her strategy.

Few people would associate happiness with the stress and uncertainty of losing everything. But Happier founder Nataly Kogan believes that the seeds of her company were planted when she was 13 years old, living in an Austrian refugee camp after fleeing the Soviet Union. She had no home, no money, no passport, and a very dark future.

Despite the awful circumstances, her optimistic father wanted to go sightseeing at the famed Vienna State Opera, and his young daughter’s passion for positivity was born.

Two decades, a respectable career, and one successful startup later, Kogan is now a well-seasoned American entrepreneur. One year ago she decided to turn her father’s life lesson into a new project: a mobile app that helps users document the things that make them happiest, with the eventual goal of creating a data-generated "happiness graph" that will allow people to discover new methods of, well, pursuing happiness. Happier launched for iPhone in February to mostly positive reviews, but her unique vision is not without its fair share of critics.

"There is a lot of skepticism," says Kogan. "There’s a lot of people who say, ‘An app can’t make me happier.’"

But defending ideas is repetitive, and Kogan would argue that it’s unproductive as well. Her advice? Turn criticism into a conversation and use it to build a stronger foundation. Just like her father, she figured out how to turn an unappealing situation into a free learning experience.

Bottom Line: When you stop being defensive, you start learning.

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