The typical music enthusiast relies on music to lead the motions of their day. In transit, reality is subtly faded by the tunes in one’s ears. Lunch break might also welcome an escapist opportunity for a song or two. If going to the gym, music can aid in the process; or, in a more focused environment, we might find the right mentality in something particularly mellow. At the end of a long day, we throw on a record, relax, and let the notes twinkle in our minds as we begin to wind down.
All of these activities require different amounts of energy that are dependent upon the mood goals we are looking to achieve. The type of music you choose to accompany these activities with can directly influence the achievement of said final mood goal.
We’ve established that we will choose to play certain music based on our existing mood, activity, or energy level; but perhaps we should consider flipping the order and consider how these musical decisions might be able to effect our emotions. If we no longer want to be sad, we can listen to happy music. If we no longer want to be tired, we can listen to upbeat music. At first, this may seem obvious, but there is a science behind this very particular reasoning.
Music has a direct effect on our hormones; it can even be considered a natural antidepressant. This is because certain tunes cause the release of serotonin and dopamine (neurotransmitters) in the brain that lead to increased feelings of happiness and well-being. It also releases norepinephrine, which is a hormone that invokes feelings of euphoria.
Our emotions, therefore, become direct results of rhythm and tone in the music of the present moment. With the heart synced to the rhythms pulsing through our ear drums, it is no wonder we become sad when listening to slower, more depressing songs; or the opposite, as we become overjoyed by feelings of excitement and energy when listening to more upbeat, positively stimulating songs. This is because our hearts and our brains are intrinsically connected (though at times they may seem inappropriately disconnected).
For evidence, Yuna L. Ferguson conducted two experiments for The Journal of Positive Psychology about becoming happier with music. Specifically, her findings led to the understanding that: “the effect [of music] was both self-directed and psychological: participants were told to try to feel happier while either listening to upbeat or neutral music. The upbeat tune listeners came out on top as far as overall impressions of happiness.”
There is, also, an opposite to this thesis, because sometimes it’s healthy to release feelings of anger or sadness, and music can aid as a therapeutic device in doing so. Are you familiar with the phrase, “getting the Led out”? Yeah. The American Music Therapy Association defines music therapy as “the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals”. With happiness being the ultimate goal, music therapy is a natural way to achieve it, whether it is through a release of unwanted feelings, or a stimulated provoking.
Listening to slower, sad music releases feelings of depressive association or relatedness; and likewise, listening to music with aggressive tones can help release the built up anger. All in all, music therapy is both self-directed and psychological, and leads to the release of emotion.
As far as achieving happiness, the primary conclusion is clear: Being the cognitive warriors that we are, we have the ability to manipulate our own moods based on the type of music we listen to. So the next time you are feeling sad, throw on a record you know makes you happy, or just listen to the Grateful Dead.
Some more practical listening tips from Yuna L. Ferguson, as a result of her experimentation:
Listen to upbeat music in the morning. Hormones related to that “get up and go” you feel in the morning begin to peak at around breakfast-time. Encourage this activity, along with your brain’s response to it, by putting on some light, easy and cheery music shortly after you awaken each morning.
Decrease your anxiety with soothing music and meditation. Anxiety and sadness/depression often go hand in hand, feeding on one another to lower your mood. Set aside time each day to meditate to soothing music, such as classical music, soft rock, MP3s of wind chimes, wind or soft tones.
Choose “directed tones.” Pioneers in the field of music, tones and mood are creating more and more pieces aimed at not only speaking to the brain, but actually directing it to achieve changes you’d like to feel. One example of such pieces is the science of binaural beats, or tones played in each ear individually. These produce rhythms that the brain automatically begins to follow, creating the mood you want.
Give yourself breaks between listening and not listening to music. It’s fun to have music on as a background all day, but in the initial stages of training your brain to respond happily, you want it to sense a definite distinction between your therapeutic tones time and downtime.
Don’t overdo it on fast music or hard rock. As fun as hard rock is, don’t listen to it non-stop. Eventually the quickened heart beat response will begin to produce a vague message of anxiety to your brain. Do keep listening to the tunes you love, but save them for when you really want to get up and dance.
Rhythm and tone can have a definite impact on your happiness – and on your life. Listen to the right set of tones and you can begin to feel the effects more quickly than you’d ever dreamed.