Happiness app aims to improve lives through gratitude

3 good things happiness app

A sexual abuse survivor is teaming up with some of New Zealand's leading names in positive psychology with a new happiness app.

The 3 Good Things app aims to change neural pathways in the brain, by reinforcing positive connections.

App creator Tamara Waugh says the central idea of the app is to "look back on your day and reflect on three good things that have happened to you".

While designing the app, Ms Waugh brought in experts from across the country, including Paul Wood.

Dr Wood, who has a PhD in psychology, says recounting the good things can have a huge impact.

"We can in effect recalibrate our brain to more attuned to things that cause positive emotions."

Ms Waugh created the app after years with depression.

"I think it all started with sexual abuse from my childhood. From that sexual abuse my mental health deteriorated," she says.

After she suffered a nervous breakdown aged 30, she decided to take action. A friend challenged her to write down three things she was grateful for each day for 100 days. She says it helped her to focus on the positive aspects of her daily life.

"You go into your day thinking, 'Oh this could be one of my things tonight,' so you start to really enjoy the thing in the moment."

Dr Wood says gratitude can increase happiness, wellbeing and resilience.

"Gratitude makes your brain more attentive to the experiences that cause positive emotions and will increase your resilience, your sense of wellbeing, your happiness."

Dr Wood spent 10 years in prison for murdering his drug dealer when he was 18 and says gratitude has helped him too.

"I spent a lot of my earlier life focussed on what was wrong, my problems, but when I chose to shift my focus to what was possible, what I could be grateful for, it fundamentally altered my view of the world."

Ms Waugh's project has been entirely self-funded, and so far she has spent more than $6000. She's now fundraising to create an Android version of the app.

Both Ms Waugh and Dr Wood say the app isn't a replacement for medication or therapy, but it is a helpful tool that can make a big difference.