updated 04:10 pm EDT, Tue July 1, 2008
First Look: Optimism
Nearly everyone has felt happy or depressed at some point in their life. Naturally, most people want to relive their happy moments, while avoiding their depressing ones. In the past, trying to identify the causes of either has sometimes been trial and error, but with the help of the Optimism program for both Windows and Mac OS X, you can try to pinpoint these causes and plot a strategy for avoiding depression and increasing happiness.
The theory behind the app is that it acts as a mood diary. Every day, you load the software and fill out a mood record to rate your feelings. After you've given your mood a rating between 0 and 10, you can identify additional factors that might've swayed your feelings, such as how long you've exercised, how many hours of sleep you got the night before, and whether or not you've taken any medication.
After rating your initial mood, the next step is to identify symptoms, triggers and strategies. Symptoms represent any negative feelings you might be experiencing such as irritability, guilt, or even suicidal thoughts. By tracking such symptoms over time, you can see which negative thoughts are most common in your life.
Triggers represent events that may have contributed to your current mood. Common triggers include lack of sleep, financial problems, and drinking too much alcohol or caffeine. Like symptoms, these can be analyzed to spot any repeating patterns.
Finally, strategies provide plans for coping with your symptoms, and eliminating any negative triggers. Each day you're supposed to pick from possible strategies, such as minimizing alcohol and caffeine consumption, eating healthier meals, or spending time relaxing or meditating.
If you follow this routine of documenting your life over several days, you can use the program's charting feature to create a picture of your emotions. Such a chart may help identify days when you were feeling up or down, and also let you gauge how your mood has fluctuated over time. Just as charts simplify numbers in a spreadsheet, so too can they isolate mood swings.
While charts can offer a visual approximation of emotion, the reporting feature of Optimism provides raw data. This lets you zero in on a particular day to decide what triggers caused your mood to rise or fall. As an example, reports can show that each day you've felt depressed might also be the same days when you got less than 6 hours of sleep a night. Knowing this can be a weapon in correcting your behavior, and thus improving your mental health.
When you know what triggers might be causing you to feel depressed, you can use the planning feature of the software to jot down strategies for staying stable. Such strategies might be as simple as laying out an exercise routine, or as complicated as listing various steps you need to take whenever confronted by a potentially depressing situation. Ultimately, the more you know about what's causing your depression, the more control you should be able to take.
For only $19.95, Optimism is a unique tool that makes it easy to record and track your emotions. While such an app can't guarantee that you'll feel happier after using it, recording your thoguhts to track problem areas in your life can be a step in the right direction towards a happier, more enthusiastic outlook.