Minding the Borderlands

Mark Koester (@markwkoester) on the art of travel and technology

Mood Tracking Apps on iOS: A Review of Apps for Logging Your Emotional Life

Here is my review of various apps and services you can use to track your mood on iOS or with your Apple Watch.

I wanted to try and track my mood. Since I’ve already tracked dozens of personal data points from my my health and my productivity to more obscure areas, I decided I want to explore one of the more active areas of self-quantification: mood tracking.

There are various psychological, philosophical and even practical challenges to measuring your moods. Firstly, one of the biggest problems is just now to define what is a mood? Secondarily, how best to “capture” and score that mood? I explored these questions and a few others in An Exploration of Mood Tracking: Can We Measure How We Feel?. My conclusion there was that moods are complex and most mood tracking is at best an abstraction. That said, for a self-tracker like me, mood tracking merited an experiment.

In this post, I want to share a review of the various mood tracking tools I tried, two of my favorites (MoodNotes and iMoodJournal) and my approach to mood tracking.

Review of Apps for Tracking Your Mood

There are lot of apps for tracking your moods. Here is a curated list of several I’ve tried and recommend in general:

  • MoodCast - Keep track of your daily mood & activities (Android).
  • Daylio - Capture your day without writing down a single line. Exportable data with Premium Version. (iOS & Android).
  • MoodNotes - Capture your feelings with a modifiable smiling or frowning face. Exportable data. (iOS and Apple Watch).
  • MoodPanda - One of the oldest moodtrackers available online. Rate your mood and share to support. Exportable data. Sync and extend via API (Web, iOS, Android).
  • MoodJam - Track your moods with colors. (Web only).
  • iMoodJournal - Mood Tracking on a 10-point scale from Really great to Couldn’t be worse. Exportable data. (Android, iOS, Apple Watch).
  • Perspective - Journaling to captures Thoughts, Moods, and Interests with the goal of helping you reflect and find perspective. (iOS).
  • Moods by Mokriya - Quick track your mood as good, okay or bad. Specify feelings using a word cloud. No data export option. (iOS, Apple Watch).
  • Gyroscope - This app is a comprehensive aggregator of tracking data and integrates with multiple services. Recently it added a feature to capture your mood and it visualizes it too. At the time of writing there is no export option, which made it a nonstarter for me.

Each of these apps works well for mood tracking.

Varying Focuses among Mood Tracking Apps

How do you want to measure your moods? The first aspect to consider is how these apps differ in their approach to mood tracking itself. You can track your mood with color using MoodJam, on a 10-point scale with iMoodJournal, a 5-point scale with Daylio, or a three-point scale with a word cloud using Moods by Mokriya. MoodNotes removes the numbering and words entirely and instead lets you select a smiling or frowning face to match your mood.

Do you want a journal too? While all of these apps can track your moods, several are also journalling apps that let you add a longer diary entry. Perspective is a good example of this, and it also provides an interesting visualization at your day, week and year too. Mood tracking can be the simple act of marking a mood, but it can often involve a deeper reflection through journaling and self-reflection.

Do you want to explore correlation and insights? Many of these apps provide decent charts to explore the variance of your mood from day to day. Several like MoodNotes and Perspective use additional context and notes on your activities to help see what factors relate to your moods. This is partially automated in the sense that the app will show you which factors affect your mood. Some of these apps also use the act of marking a mood as the first step in a mental exploration where you attempt to see pattens in your moods yourself. Mood tracking is about understanding what behaviors impact your mood, for example.

Need Public Support? While not as technically sound or well-designed as the others, two apps and websites in particular focus on emotional support in how they track moods. MoodPanda and MoodTrack are some of the oldest tools available online for mood tracking. Both provide a way to record your mood and provide a note. Their main added feature is you can share your mood with a community, view other people’s moods and provide mutual support, albeit anonymously.

All in all, these are really solid apps to track your mood. Most provide a simple interface to log your mood and a variety of additional features depending on how you want to track. So which do I prefer and use?

My Favorite Mood Tracking Apps: MoodNotes and iMoodJournal

Based on my testing, I think the two best options for me (and for quantified self folks in general) are MoodNotes and iMoodJournal:

  • Both are great apps, which are clean and easy to use.
  • Both provide easy to follow visualizations of your tracking.
  • iMoodJournal’s design feels like it was done several years ago. By contrast, MoodNotes has a much nicer design and feels like it was better made than iMoodJournal.
  • In terms of logging, both have an Apple Watch integration. Like logging my habits and goals, this Apple Watch integration makes it easy to capture my mood too, and it has become a “must have” feature for most of my tracking.
  • Both use a scale to measure your mood. MoodNotes is unique that you rate your mood by manipulating a face between smiling and frowning.
  • In terms of data accessibility, MoodNotes and iMoodJournal provide a CSV export of your data.

Either apps would work for my needs. But with a slight edge in design, visualization and ease of logging, my preferred mood tracker is MoodNotes.

One other bonus feature with MoodNotes is that I can capture my location data too, so my mood can be tied to where I was at the time of mood logging. Like data-driven journaling, this additional “metadata” is a nice addition, though it would be great to also have the weather conditions too.

How I Track My Mood on My iPhone and Apple Watch: An Experiment in Mood Tracking

In spite of the challenges to mood tracking, I decided that mood tracking merited a tracking experiment. Since I have a personal dataset that spans so many other aspects of my life, my primary question was to see how my tracked life related to my logged mood. Specifically by capturing my mood throughout the day and over time, I could in turn attempt to see if there are patterns and relationships between my mood and other aspects of my life.

But before I could explore patterns and my mood score variance, I need to start tracking my mood. Unfortunately, while my preferred method of tracking is passive tracking, mood tracking requires manually logging your mood. Fortunately it only takes less than half a minute to log your mood.

Open the app on my phone or in Apple Watch, mark my mood and save. MoodNotes uses a varying smiling face which you mark either up or down according to your mood:

My initial tracking protocol is that I immediately log my mood upon waking and again within the first 30 minutes of my day. I’ll then log it at or before lunch and again in the afternoon. Finally I log it at or near dinner time and at least once again in the evening.

So far, I’m averaging 3-6 mood logs per day. I use a reminder feature and notification in the app to make sure I don’t forget to log my mood.

I’m generally using MoodNotes on my Apple Watch to mark my mood. After being shown a smiling face, it’s up to me to set the face to match my mood upon the range from very happy to neutral to very sad.

MoodNotes takes a more opinionated approach to mood tracking. Instead of a neutral or empty mood, the app is encouraging a more positive or happy mood. It’s default mood is a smiling face, so the thought process is that we can build up habitual positive moods.

Conclusion: Why Track Your Mood?

In this post, we looked at several apps you can use to measure your mood. Most measure your app on a linear scale. A few offer alternative ways to quantify your mood using multiple questions. Depending on the additional features or goals you have with mood tracking, then some apps provide more community and support, a richer journaling feature or ways to explore correlations and what affects your mood.

My two favorite apps for mood tracking are: MoodNotes and iMoodJournal. The deciding factors for me was a simple and clean design, easy of logging and data export. Ultimately I decided to start tracking my mood regularly using MoodNotes since it’s design was a bit more polished and its approach (positive mood thinking) made sense to me.

Now that I have my tool of choice. Why am I tracking my mood?

There are a lot of reasons and benefits to mood tracking. The most obvious is if you have a mood disorder or are depressed. In this situation, mood tracking can be used individually or with a health care professional to help you understand and improve how your regulate your mood. Mood tracking can help you see if certain behaviors or medications are helping in building a more positive mental outlook.

Outside of more serious medical conditions, mood tracking can be useful way to explore happiness. Happiness, like mood, is a complicated topic and one I explored in detail in What We Know (and Need to Know) About Happiness. Mood tracking can be an interesting process and journey towards understanding what you value, what contributes to a positive mood and what are most important to your happiness.

Another reason to track your mood is curiosity. I’m curious and somewhat obsessive self-tracker. I’ve tracked a lot of data points, so it made sense to look into my mood. My main idea was that I wanted to see if I could better understand what affects my mood. Perhaps by tracking it, I could better understand it, and ideally tweak my life so I can avoid factors that create negative moods and optimize my life to be in a better mood more often.

I’m still a long ways from understanding my moods and moods in general. But one thing I’ve noticed so far in tracking my mood is that moods are tied to environments, situations and triggers. Mood tracking can in that way be considered beyond just an act of quantification; it is an active pursuit towards a positive attitude and mood. In this way, the aim of mood tracking for me is to develop a positive default mode. Mood tracking helps me notice my mood and proactively stay positive.

What tools are you using to track your mood? What have you learned from mood tracking or any other forms of self-tracking?

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