The influence of music on our lives is certainly nothing new. Consider the drumbeats of our ancient ancestors and how they served to communicate, to celebrate, to prepare for war and to bless the peace. Almost as soon as early man began to fashion functional tools to help with the necessary activities of daily living, he also began to develop instruments designed to create music. It’s clear that from the beginning of recorded history, music has been an integral part of human existence.
Questions about the role music plays in our lives and how it might affect health and behavior are at least as old as the writings of Aristotle and Plato. In the 20th century the profession of music therapy formally began after World Wars I and II when amateur and professional musicians of all types from communities around the country, went to Veterans hospitals to play for the thousands of veterans suffering both physical and emotional trauma from the wars. The patients’ physical and emotional responses to the music were so dramatic, that doctors and nurses began to request that musicians be hired by the hospitals.
In two recent studies, one in the UK and one in Finland, the research involved three surveys of more than 2,400 people focusing on the emotions and memorable experiences associated with sad music. According to Tuomas Eerola, Ph.D., professor of music cognition at Durham University, “the results of the study help us understand the ways people regulate their moods with the help of music and how music rehabilitation and music therapy may tap into the processes of comfort, relief and enjoyment.”
Another study suggests that we may seek out sad music when we are undergoing a deep emotional loss (in my neighborhood, add a pint of chocolate swirl and you have the makings of some very therapeutic wallowing). The authors of that study believe sad music provides a substitute for the lost relationship, and they compare it to the ear of an empathetic friend who understands your feelings and offers comfort.
Yet another research project focused on the joy upbeat music can bring. This study found that people who listened to upbeat music could improve their overall mood and boost their happiness in just two weeks.
Researchers in a study out of Denmark and Finland looked at the responses of people while they listened to music with happy, sad or fearful undertones. They concluded that while sad or aggressive music might help some people express negative feelings, it doesn’t necessarily improve their mood.
All in all, while the results of some recent research can be confusing, there is no mistaking the profound effect music has on our emotions. Brain imaging studies show that listening to music activates the reward system in the brain the same way that food and sex do.
In an article published by healthline.com, certified neurologic music therapist Jay Anderson of Palm Desert California suggests that “if you want to tune in to music that will help your mood, start by listening to different types of music you wouldn’t normally choose to explore how they affect your mood and make you feel.”
“I’d liken it to a book. If you’re listening to the same music over and over, it’s like reading the same book over and over,” says Anderson. “It’s good to have a variety of music to help you feel expressions deeper.”
There really is no accounting for taste and the same music that soothes the savage breast of one may send someone else away screaming. The key is finding the right music for you. The good news is, experiencing a variety of music is easier than ever before, has no negative side effects, and costs very little. And, tapping into music as a way to create a happier mood brings benefits beyond feeling good. Happiness has been linked to better physical health, higher income, and greater relationship satisfaction. So crank up those tunes and jam your way to a healthier, happier you.
Sources: Healthline.com and the American Music Therapy Association.