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The Smartphone App Helping Me Get 'Smart' About My Emotions


Clearly, for better or worse, Emojis are here to stay. The word “emoji” has entered the dictionary. The little faces and symbols have begun to undergo social and linguistic study. This year, they even came to life on the big screen.

This time last year, Emojis were also inspiring me with an idea for a mobile app promoting mental health by facilitating user-friendly emotion identification.

You see, one day a therapist asked me (as therapists tend to do!) how I was feeling about something. And I was stumped.

You’ve been there, haven’t you? Those moments when you say you feel “blah” when you mean sad, “meh” when you mean tired or “fine” when you mean any number of things.

According to psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett, it’s important for our mental and physical health that we identify our emotions as specifically as possible or, in psychological terms, that we practice “emotional granularity.” Barrett writes: “Emotional granularity isn’t just about having a rich vocabulary; it’s about experiencing the world, and yourself, more precisely. This can make a difference in your life.”

To help with my emotional granularity, the therapist I was talking to pulled out a piece of paper containing a chart of 30 cartoonish “feeling faces.”

“That’s used for kindergarteners, isn’t it?” I asked suspiciously.

“Well, yes. But it can be used by anyone…” he replied.

As I adjusted to using the feeling faces chart, I started thinking that not only can anyone use feeling faces but perhaps, without even realizing it, a large portion of our culture already does — in the form of Emojis.

So, I set to work replicating a fairly standard feeling faces chart into the language of Emoji, and suddenly it didn’t look all that childish. It looked like something meant for me, for my Insta-happy teenage cousins, for my technology-professional father or for anyone, quite frankly. I wondered what it would look like to load up that chart into a mobile app with the following simple instructions (excerpted from the product’s website):

1. Once a day EMOJI CHECK sends you a friendly mobile notification.

2. Open the app and select the Emoji that best represents how you’re feeling.

3. Feel free to write an explanatory note in the textbox if you want. Or not.

4. Go about your day – just a little more in tune with your mind, body and soul!

The 30 Emojis in the chart provide enough options to get some emotional granularity going — but not so many options as to be overwhelming. Not to mention the feelings in the chart have a history of proven use in the mental health care field.

I’m happy to share that in January 2017, EMOJI CHECK was released to the public.

And, I’m happy to share that it’s helped me — a person living with chronic mild-moderate depression and anxiety myself — on my journey of health and happiness as well.

When I had a hunch I was hitting a rough patch, I was selecting “overwhelmed” and “exhausted” in EMOJI CHECK on a daily basis for at least two to three weeks. That tipped the scale for me to make some calls and get some help. Now, some months later, the act of honestly selecting “hopeful” and “happy” in the app most evenings for at least two to three weeks tells me I’ve experienced improvement and may be ready to talk to my therapist about terminating treatment.

Whether or not EMOJI CHECK has such direct decision-making effects on its users, I’m confident we can all use more emotion identification. Each time we identify our emotions with more specificity than a shrug and a “fine,” we build habits of self-awareness into the very fibers — and, yes, the phones! — of our lives.

EMOJI CHECK is currently free and available for iPhone only, with the possibility of Android expansion based on demand. Search “Emoji Check” in the Apple Store or click here to download.

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Thinkstock photo via Blackzheep.