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  • The Gift of Resilience

    Life is unpredictable, but one thing is certain: adversity. We all experience struggles, losses, and grief. Yet people react to adversity in different ways: the same trauma that emotionally scars one person and prevents them from moving forward may lead another to grow, to make a new start.

    That inspiring way of adapting to a setback and settling into a new normal is called resilience. Resilience isn’t about ‘bouncing back’ , since life after a ‘bad’ event is never quite the same. Rather, it is about incorporating  that event and beginning a new chapter in life. Resilience helps people find real meaning, even strength, in effectively dealing with adversity.

    Resilience isn’t a rare quality. Rather, it’s a process that takes time, and for each person, it unfolds differently. That’s because resilience combines inner and outer resources, like skills, habits, personality traits, beliefs, relationships, and social networks and communities of like minded and/or supportive others. So for one person, resilience might consist of optimism, self-awareness, a love of music, and a circle of friends. Another might draw upon an ambition to achieve and a strong religious faith. Still another may be motivated by a fierce determination to prevent similar tragedies in others’ lives.

     Because resilience has many strands and many pathways, it isn’t just something you’re born with. It’s something you can cultivate, and one of its key components is the skill of emotion management. You can learn to recognize, understand, label, and express emotions in a healthy way—and, importantly, you can learn to shift  emotions and put yourself in a more pleasant or even in a higher-energy state. Managing emotions may be tricky to master, but, like a muscle, it gets stronger with practice.

    The new Mood Meter App for iOS is the perfect tool to help you practice self- awareness leading to emotion management and, ultimately, to boost your resilience.

    You can check in with the app as often as you like through the day. Each time, the Mood Meter App prompts you to consider what you feel at that moment, then record why you feel that way. It then asks you to decide if you want to stay with your current emotion or shift to a more positive one.

    That shift—that decision to self-regulate and energize—is at the heart of emotion management. And emotion management is at the heart of resilience. Here the Mood Meter App helps you shift , when you chose to, with an array of inspiring quotations and photos. You can also build up a personal archive of words and images. that you can draw from, when you want to shift your mood.

    To help you gain perspective, the Mood Meter App makes it easy to chart your past feelings, whether it’s just today’s or a week’s worth. To help you label and thereby discriminate one feeling from another, the Mood Meter App helps you enhance your emotion vocabulary. And, since another crucial part of resilience is the support and love of other people, you can share your results.

    Life isn’t easy—that’s a given. But the gift of resilience can help anyone make the very best of a bad situation, and that gift is within everyone’s reach.


    The Mood Meter App was developed by the authors of this blog in partnership with HopeLab and Reliable Coders.  It is anchored in decades of research on emotional intelligence and was deeply informed by the perspectives of potential users. 


    Robin Stern, Ph.D.

    Marc Brackett, Ph.D.

    Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence


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  • I’d been working off and on with Vic Strecher for nearly 14 years. I knew him to be a popular Prof. of Public Health at the University of Michigan, the founder and visionary leader of HealthMedia, a health improvement company later acquired by health behemoth Johnson & Johnson, and an all-round good guy. Nothing, though, quite prepared me for what was coming next.

    In 2010, Vic lost his nineteen year-old, younger daughter, Julia, to a heart condition she’d lived with all her life. After that, I didn’t see Vic for a while. Then, one day he showed up with an early draft of a book he was working on. “David, I’ve written a graphic novel about purpose and I’d like you to look at it.” So began the next episode in our long working relationship and the turning over of a new leaf for me.

    Vic’s graphic novel, On Purpose, is a remarkable tale of loss and renewal. Written from the heart, it’s a book that is by turns fantastical, educational, inspiring, tragic, funny, and life-affirming. It’s a fascinating read that leaves most readers thirsting for ways to integrate greater purpose into their daily lives.

    To help bridge this gap between learning and living, Vic worked with digital agency, Enlighten (where I’ve worked for 17 years), to conceive and build an interactive tool readers could use to deepen their experience and understanding of On Purpose by putting some of the principles and insights of the book to immediate, practical use.

    Working with a four-person team (creative director, designer, front- and back-end engineers), Enlighten adopted a back-to-the-garage, highly agile approach to developing the overall app experience—from feature set to look-and-feel to programming language and cross-platform functionality—the team relentlessly pursued the goal of creating a highly useful, deeply engaging, digital experience that would be unique in form and function while remaining intuitive to use and, in Vic’s words: “a constant delight to interact with.”

    Version 1.0 of the On Purpose app begins by walking users through the linear process of choosing 3 to 5 life values; personalizing those values to bring greater individual meaning to each; rating how deeply held each of those values are for the user; and, finally, crafting a concise, actionable purpose statement. Once the user’s purpose has been articulated, users are encouraged to bring greater awareness to their daily alignment with that purpose. Of course, it’s possible to have more than one purpose at any given time, and one’s purpose can shift many times over a lifetime.

    The On Purpose app helps each user “Chart Your Day,” giving them the opportunity to record how aligned they’ve been with their purpose and then record 5 key behavioral elements, sleep, presence, activity, creativity, and eating (S.P.A.C.E.) that are known to impact one’s energy, willpower, and ability to stay on purpose. Finally, a written journal entry can help users recall what was going on any given day (i.e. Why was I sleeping so poorly back in January?). After ten entries, the app will begin to offer insightful feedback, drawing correlations between purpose alignment and behavior, for instance, at the moment, presence and mindfulness appear to be helpful in my staying on purpose.

    Vic’s individual purpose of reducing nihilism in the world by helping large numbers of people live with more purpose and meaning in their lives is also the core purpose of the non-profit It’s our goal to reach as many individuals and communities around the world as possible with the message and method of living on purpose.

    And what about that turning over of the new leaf I spoke of earlier? For me it's been a renewal and deepening of my love and caring for my family, an opening up of my heart towards a broader sense of community service, and a recommitment to live as openly and creatively as possible in the moment. The On Purpose app, based on my daily inputs, has suggested that mindfulness and presence are important supportive elements towards ongoing alignment with my purpose, so a welcome return to meditation practice has recently become part of my daily ritual. The arrival of a new year always brings with it opportunities for introspection and growth. So, bring on 2014. This year I have a pretty good compass in place for the journey ahead.

    *You can check out the hard- and soft-cover book print versions at And don’t forget to download the free iOS On Purpose app on iTunes. A web-based version of the app is also available via

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  • Harnessing mobile media for good

    The very technology that has increased our sense of urgency and pace of life is the same that can help us to slow down and enjoy it – and others.
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  • 1. Embrace that Control is an Illusion
    I remember telling a friend when I began working on my app that I would try it out for a few months and if it doesn't fly, let it go and go do something else. He responded (correctly) "No. You will revise and revise and revise until it does work."

    I didn't realize at the time, but this is classic innovation. This is working to solve a problem you love and burning through 100's of solutions until you find one that works.

    I found when I finally simply embraced that I didn't know what I was in for, but I wouldn't want it any other way, I relaxed about it and even learned to enjoy it!

    2. Get Ready to Grow
    As an engineer as a scientist, searching high and low for solutions was still well within my comfort zone.

    But bringing my idea to market, blows us engineers/scientists right out of our comfort zones. I had to become a self-promoter, marketer, blogger, talker, sales and support person! All the roles I feel very uncomfortable with and need to grow into.

     And I had the classic blind spot of thinking that getting something to work was all that was required to get others to use it! Wrong. What really happens is that nobody uses or cares about what you built until you find a permutation of your idea that works for people.  

    In the meantime, get ready to grow really thick skin as you absorb piles and piles of 'constructive criticism' from the precious few people that do take time out of their busy lives to check it out your idea!
    3. Stay in Touch with the Love
    I have heard it said by start-up incubators that what keeps a classic startup from hanging in there and not dying is fear of the shame of failure.

    I can say after over 3 years developing my idea and being more committed now than ever, I am not driven by shame. I am driven by my love of the problem I am trying to solve that brings me a sense of purpose and connection to humanity.

    As our HopeLab friends remind us, three keys to resilience are connection, purpose and um...control (Ok, two out of three isn't bad!), so I don't think it is an accident that I am still in the game and plan to be for the long haul.

    And as I am putting my idea out there, I am actually developing a fan club of people that my app has helped. Many are people I know and care about which is immensely rewarding. And now they won't let me quit because they also want my app out in the world helping others!

    It's as if my resilience with my app is contagious and growing! This is something I feel immense gratitude for that I can't imagine happening working on projects that are motivated by financial gain.

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  • "Profit". When you hear that word, is your gut reaction "Yeah!" or "Yuck!"? Or, like me, do you have both reactions simultaneously?

    For "Yuck!" people, the word "profit" brings up negative feelings along with images of heartless "big business" executives aggressively enriching themselves without giving a hoot about the consequences of their activities for other people. This attitude views profit as mostly a win-lose proposition.

    For "Yeah!" people, the word "profit" brings up positive feelings along with images of smart, disciplined businesspeople reaping well-deserved rewards for being creatively and efficiently responsive to what other people (customers) want. This attitude views profit as mostly a win-win proposition.

    Many of us have been conditioned pretty strongly with one attitude or the other. The professional, political, and personal communities we choose often reinforce our conditioning. It is challenging for us to engage productively with people with the opposite attitude. Too often, we don't even try.

    To effectively create and promote resilience tech (tech that helps users boost their psychological and biological ability to bounce back from adversity), I think we need to get past the win-lose thinking associated with the "Yuck!" attitude, and cultivate win-win thinking at a deeper level than is usually associated with the "Yeah!" attitude. This requires that we integrate wisdom from both attitudes.

    The "Yeah!" attitude wisely points out that, to maximize our positive impact, we need:

    • Outward Focus: Seeking profit forces us to be responsive to the people we want to help, since our profits depend on how they respond to what we do. Yeah!
    • Quantitative Focus: Numerical measures of success really matter, and seeking profit forces us to take them seriously. Yeah!
    • Self-Funding Products: Successful profitable products fund themselves as their impact scales up. Yeah!

    The "Yuck!" attitude wisely points out that, to maximize our positive impact, we cannot allow our desire for profit to lead to:

    • Narrow Focus: Seeking profit can narrow our focus to helping people who are able and willing to pay, or who are desirable advertising targets. Yuck!
    • Superficial Focus: Seeking profit can lead us to cater mainly to superficial desires that make people open their wallets, while neglecting their deeper needs. Yuck!
    • Short-Term Focus: Seeking profit focuses us on short-term concerns, often to the exclusion of important long-term considerations. Yuck!

    By integrating these points we can cultivate a wiser relationship to profit, opening up a deeper win-win basis for creating and promoting resilience technology.

    How? When the topic of profit comes up, notice how your own attitude arises as feelings, words, and images. Appreciate the wisdom it contains, then gently remind yourself of the wisdom reflected in the opposite attitude.

    If you tend toward the "Yuck!" reaction, remind yourself that the real source of that "Yuck!" feeling is not profit itself, but the narrow, superficial, and short term focus often associated with it. Seeking profit can actually result in helping more people more effectively than well-meaning nonprofit efforts that are not forced to focus outward, take numbers seriously, and make their products fund themselves.

    If you tend toward the "Yeah!" reaction, remind yourself that short term financial profit is just part of what you can win in business. By focusing also on broader, deeper, and longer term objectives and measures of success, you can achieve the short term profit you need along with a whole host of additional "winnings," such as a resilient brand, grateful and loyal customers, and deeper personal satisfaction.

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  • Control: How Empowerment Can Improve Health

    When bad things happen to us, we often feel powerless to change them. Our sense of control is threatened by the circumstances of the world around us. Conversely, experiences that give us a sense of control – that help us see how we can affect our circumstances – help tap into our psychological resilience and even support our physical health.  Can we design technologies that bolster our sense of control in life? And what would that look like?

    Here’s one example. Imagine you’re a kid diagnosed with cancer. You likely feel very little control over what’s happening inside your body. You may even question your ability to fight your disease. At HopeLab, we asked ourselves, how might we give kids with cancer a greater sense of control and support their belief that they could do what it takes to fight cancer and win? Those questions led to our Re-Mission game projects.

    In Re-Mission and Re-Mission 2, we’ve made an invisible enemy – cancer – visible and given kids the power to fight back at their disease. Through game play, kids can blast away cancer cells, battle infections, and manage side effects associated with cancer and cancer treatments. The games don’t cure cancer, but they do boost kids’ self-efficacy and give them a sense of greater control. And that sense of control can translate into healthier behavior and measureable biological outcomes.

    In a randomized clinical trial, young cancer patients who played Re-Mission stuck to their medications more consistently. Cancer patients who played the game had a greater sense of self-efficacy, or belief that they could influence their own cancer outcomes.  And they were more motivated to beat their cancer by sticking to their prescribed meds. In fact, a follow-up Stanford neuroimaging studyshowed that the part of the brain that reflects motivation lit up in kids who played the game, more than in kids who were just watching the game.  The study also demonstrated that the interactive nature of game play was key in delivering that sense of motivation. So it’s not surprising that the kids with cancer who play Re-Mission games feel a greater sense of control, which makes them more likely to take their medications and improve their chances for full recovery. 

    These kinds of results can be replicated beyond cancer, in any scenario where a healthy sense of control might bolster resilience in the face of adversity. This suggests an opportunity space for developers and designers.  There are plenty of apps that help you gain control over your pill schedule or track your weight loss – but what apps have you seen that help you gain a sense of control over your destiny.  What might those apps look like?  

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  • How social connections save us

    Feeling deeply connected to others puts us on a path to happiness and a healthy immune system. That’s right – having healthy social connections has been scientifically proven to  improve both our psychological well-being and our physical health.

    “Healthy social connections” doesn’t mean having 500 Facebook friends, which can be fun but superficial.  What I’m referring to is deep, authentic relationships that make you feel supported and loved. 

    Without deep connections with other people, we grow lonely.  And science tells us that loneliness can make us sick. In fact, it can be lethal.  Here’s how.

    First, let’s be clear about what we mean by loneliness.  In this context, loneliness is not the dissatisfaction from a bad month with your lover or friend.  It’s not the realization that you only have two or three truly close friends. By loneliness, I mean the long-term condition of wanting and not having social intimacy, not feeling like you belong. Anywhere. 

    Science demonstrates that the feeling of loneliness wreaks havoc on the body. A published study done at the University of California, Los Angeles, co-authored by Dr. Steve Cole, head of R&D at HopeLab, found that the most reliable predictor of death in HIV-positive gay men was whether or not he was “out,” or open, about his sexuality.  Why?

    Think about what it feels like to be in the closet about something.  It is incredibly lonely.  You hide behind a false identity. You impose sharp limits on intimacy and live in constant terror of exposure.  At the biological level, stress hormones flood your body and your tissues swell up as your white blood cells swarm to protect you against assault. 

    In the study, closeted men with HIV died an average of two to three years earlier than men who came out. In fact, the researchers found that the feeling of loneliness was more predictive of an earlier death than whether or not someone had support for maintaining his health. When AIDS-infected white blood cells were place in a soup of stress hormones, the virus replicated three to 10 times faster than it did in cells in a control condition.

    What does this mean for all us? It shows us that when we feel connected and safe, our body feels safe. When our body doesn’t feel safe, we get sick.  This suggests another opportunity area for developers, in addition to the concept of purpose.  There are plenty of apps that allow us to casually meet and share with people, but far fewer that help us cultivate deep connections with others.

    How might we use mobile to foster healthy connections between ourselves, even if it meant putting our phones down?

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  • We often think of happiness as feeling good in the moment. But there’s a more potent kind of happiness that can have a more positive impact on our well-being: the happiness that comes from doing good.  Happiness from doing good can give you a sense of purpose in life, and new insights from science show that purpose, or the pursuit of something that is meaningful to you, can improve your health, even at the genetic level.

    A group of researchers led by Dr. Barbara Fredrickson at the University of North Carolina compared happiness from feeling good versus doing good to determine which is the better foil to being stressed, defensive, and feeling miserable and how each impact physical health.  To do this, the researchers asked 80 people questions about how happy they felt and how depressed they felt, then drew their blood to analyze the genes in their white blood cells.

    The researchers found that at a psychological level happiness from both feeling good and doing good were inversely related to depression.  In other words, the excitement of a fun new experience can counter depression and so can helping a friend in need.  But the two types of happiness had much different impact at a genetic level. 

    Happiness from doing good was linked with reduced in inflammation in the body – or in biomedical terms, the down-regulation of pro-inflammatory genes.  This is a healthy pattern.  We want to see low levels of inflammation gene expression in our bodies, in general.  Inflammation is helpful in small amounts – it can be a sign of healing, like the swelling around a cut or a bruise.  But inflammation also serves as an inadvertent fertilizer for chronic diseases like cancer and cardio vascular disease. Think of it this way: Inflammation is like an iron—it’s really good at solving a small set of problems, like getting the wrinkle out of a shirt.  But if you leave it on for too long, it will burn your house down.

    Happiness from doing good was also linked with an increase, or up-regulation, of antiviral genes. This is also a healthy pattern.  These genes help produce an antibody response that protects us against viruses like the common cold we catch from our cubicle neighbors or our children. So higher levels antiviral gene expression can help keep us healthy.   

    But people with high levels of happiness from feeling good showed a different pattern. Interestingly, although they experienced a lot of happiness, their biology was going in a risky direction. This doesn’t mean that happiness from feeling good is bad for you.  There’s probably no immediate harm from chasing happiness for the sake of happiness.  But the absence of happiness from doing good - if you are just a happiness junkie, only looking for hits of happiness from feeling good – may set you up for disease. 

    The take away is this: Cultivating a sense of purpose in life by doing good, not just pursuing momentary gratification sets us up for feeling happy and makes us healthier. A sense of purpose is also a key component to resilience, or the ability to bounce back from adversity. Currently, there are lots of apps and other technology that track and help us feel good, but there are far fewer that get us into the mindset of doing good.

    So, what might we create to take advantage of this opportunity to support resilience by cultivating people’s sense of purpose?

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  • Why Resilience Technology?

    When something really tough happens – when we lose someone close, when we get a sobering diagnosis from a doctor, when we experience financial hardship, some of us are sent into a tailspin and really struggle to get our lives back together.  Others of us may be just as knocked down but somehow are better able to pick ourselves up and thrive in spite of what we are enduring.

    Why are some of us better at coping with the stresses caused by adversity?


    The truth is, bad things happen to us all. But here’s the good news: Resilience, the ability to bounce back from adversity, is an innate human trait. At HopeLab, we’re exploring how social technology might support resilience, even help us thrive. 

    Scientific research has shown that there are actually 3 psychological experiences we can intentionally cultivate to bolster our natural resilience:

    • A sense of purpose, or meaning, in life
    • A sense of healthy connection to others
    • A sense of control over one’s destiny

    Given what we know from science, how might we use tech to help people cultivate and stay true to their sense of meaning in life? How might we intentionally design to foster healthy connections between people? How might we use apps to help people feel less helpless when things are spinning out of control? Or how might we take an existing intervention that supports resilience and scale it using mobile technology? 

    We’ve all seen or even built mobile apps that help individuals track their personal wellness, from biometrics to happiness to stress reduction.  But building apps to tap into our innate resilience and help us thrive is an area of blue-sky opportunity. And we’re looking forward to exploring the possibilities with you in this network!

    Welcome and thrive...

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