Health

Reach out and text someone to make them happy

Love you! Just saying . . . It was an innocuous text, the kind of message a partner taps out to the love of their life once in awhile.

A woman wearing a lime green polo shirt texting

Masterfile

“Love you! Just saying…”

It was an innocuous text, the kind of message a partner taps out to the love of their life once in awhile. I can’t even remember what prompted me to send it — perhaps I was feeling extra lovey in our relationship that day. Either way, while I received an equally lovey response back, my husband brought it up again that night, saying how it really made him happy to get that text from me. “That’s great hon,” I replied, and on we went with our lives.

Move ahead a month and this study comes across my desk, on how text messages can help boost a person’s happiness. Although in the context of this study, the text messages were part of a study around depression and it was discovered that routine texting can help patients with depression feel more loved and connected. Adrian Aguilera, lead author and an assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley, shares more about the power of text.

Q: How did you come to study the power of text?

A: I was looking for innovative and cost effective ways to reach patients I was working with in a therapy context. Since I work with primarily low-income patients in a public clinic setting, most have access to text messaging.  

Q: Why study text messaging in particular? Don’t we all feel happy when we get a good message from someone whatever the format?

A: It’s true that we feel happy when we get a text from a loved one. The importance of my work is applying that to a clinical/therapeutic setting and most importantly automating messages in order to reach more patients. Even though the messages are automated, people who are in therapy are still feeling a connection to their therapist and feeling cared for.  

Q: So how would text messaging work as part of a treatment for depression? Can it be used alongside other treatment methods, such as antidepressants?

A: It definitely has a role for helping track people’s mood over time which is relevant to talk therapies as well as when one is taking antidepressants.  

Q: Does the frequency of the messages or using specific words lead to increased happiness?

A: The messages we sent simply asked “What is your mood right now on a scale of 1 to 10?” so the content of the message obviously should not be negative but an important aspect seems to be a perceived connection and sense that one’s therapist/healthcare provider cares about how one is doing.  

Q: What can we take away from your study and apply to our own lives? Should we be sending more happy texts to friends and family members?

A: Sending positive messages to family members, particularly those that are having difficulties emotionally would likely be well-received. One of the main goals for our sending of messages to patients is to help people become aware of their mood states and begin to identify the types of thoughts and activities that are related to both positive and negative mood. In understanding these connections, people can feel more empowered to do more of the things that improve mood and less that lower mood.

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