Music and Happiness

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Are music and happiness really connected? “Music… will help dissolve your perplexities and purify your character and sensibilities, and in time of care and sorrow, will keep a fountain of joy alive in you,” said Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Can music do all that? Yup, it’s true; music can soothe the soul and refresh the spirit.

New findings offer a biological explanation: listening to moving music causes the brain to release dopamine, a feel-good chemical.

If you were watching the Oscar show and saw Pharrell Williams with his funky hat perform the song “Happy” from the movie Despicable Me 2, was there any doubt that everyone in the audience was feeling some of this natural feel-good drug?

Turns out music can be a real life saver when our lives become overwhelming. Studies have shown music can ease anxiety, lower stress, and even boost heart health. Evidently, we’re hardwired to react emotionally to music and the process starts early. Babies as young as five months old react to happy songs and these feelings only intensify as we grow older.

Live music is a potent happiness trigger because it provides a way to forge social bonds. What’s even better? Research shows that learning to play an instrument or – if you’re fortunate to already know how – continuing to practice and play an instrument offers mental benefits as we age. In fact, a recent study published in the July issue of Human Neuroscience, found that older adults who learned music in childhood and continued to play an instrument for at least 10 years outperformed others in tests of memory and cognitive ability. It also revealed that sustaining musical activity during advanced age may enhance thinking ability.

Hey, we can all use some more of that as we get older!

A friend of mine, who also happens to be co-grandma of my grandchildren, Tam Cole, has been playing the flute for 46 years and is living proof of all the benefits music can bring. “I feel that music is a treasured part of my soul and one of the most beautiful gifts given to us by our Creator,” she recently said. “With music we can worship Him, and we can soothe and comfort our own damaged hearts. From infancy, we are fascinated by the rhythms and melodies we hear and feel. In our older years, we are instantly transported to youth and vitality just by hearing an old tune. With music, we can connect with others, even someone we’ve just met, even if they speak another language. When I listen to music, I can go from tired to energized, from a feeling of sadness to one of absolute joy. When I play music, I can truly express myself at those times when mere words would not suffice. When I play music with other musicians who share that same joy, I feel a wonderful connection that could not be achieved in any other way. Music can transport any one from a state of mediocrity to a state of bliss.”

Well said! By the way, those who live locally can hear Tam play the flute and witness the joy it brings her at Randyn & Friends Concert this Saturday, March 15th at Cathedral City High School. Tickets can be purchased at Ticket River. If you can make it, I’ll see you there.

So, what kind of music can increase your feeling of happiness? That depends.

By now you probably know what can lift you out of a funk. Immersing yourself in a work of ethereal beauty that gives you the shivers or chills like a symphony or a great jazz player wailing the blues is an effective strategy to transcend sadness. Classical or jazz may be your best bet if you’re seeking calmness and relaxation. A sad song may even bring about happiness indirectly for those who know the value of a good cry or cathartic release. On the other hand, consonant, up-tempo music in a major key may be the best choice if you simply need a pick-me-up after a stressful day at work.

More than any specific type of music, it’s songs that personally bring you joy, bring back happy memories, and make your spirit soar that can increase your happiness. Here are 15 of my favorite happy songs. And yes, some of these songs show my Baby Boomer roots. No matter what generation, I dare you to listen to these and not tap your feet and feel better!

Walking On Sunshine, Karina & the Waves

Beautiful Day, U2

I’m a Believer, The Monkees

Put Your Records On, by Corinne Bailey Rae

Three Little Birds, Bob Marley

Here Comes the Sun, Beatles

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, Diana Ross/Supremes/Temptations

ABC, Jackson 5

Build Me Up Buttercup, The Foundations

Brighter Than The Sun, Colbie Caillat

Don’t Worry, Be Happy, Bobby McFerrin

Something Bout a Boat, Jimmy Buffett

Coconut Song, Harry Nilsson

Over the Rainbow / What a Wonderful World, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole

Soak Up The Sun, Sheryl Crow

A few of my friends mentioned songs such as Feeling Good by Michael Buble, Mr. Blue Sky by ELO, and Happy Together by Turtles. My lifelong friend, Susie, reminded me of Brighter than the Sun, which I like so much I’m claiming it as my own in the list above. My sister and a friend both mentioned Happy by Pharrell Williams.

What songs never fail to bring you out of your funk?


Julie A. Gorges is the author of two young adult novels, Just Call Me Goody Two Shoes and Time to Cast Away and co-author of Residential Steel Design and Construction published by McGraw Hill. In addition, hundreds of her articles and short stories have been published in national and regional magazines, and she received three journalism awards from the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association while working as a newspaper reporter. Julie currently lives in southern California with her husband, Scott, and has two grown children and three grandchildren.

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6 Responses

  1. Julie,

    Thank you for your post. Helpful information that also brought back memories while listening to the songs you chose. Thanks for taking your time to include the links, saved me from having to do a search for them.


  2. Linda Biggs says:

    Julie, thanks for this wonderful post. Like Wanda, I appreciate the music links and there are many of my favourites on there. Some are also on a playlist on my laptop called Housework Songs that I like to sing along to while doing the chores. They get me through my tasks quicker than anything!

    You’re absolutely right about music lowering stress levels; it works so well for me. I even used it as therapy when I was stopping smoking about 20 years ago. I cranked up some heavy metal, enough to deaden my senses and for some reason it removed the urge to light up. I still don’t know how that worked!

    I linked your post on my blog as I figured my readers would enjoy it just as much as I did.

  1. November 20, 2014

    […] an earlier blog, I listed my favorite 15 songs that make me feel happy along with the benefits of music if you want to check it out. Today, I’ll share my list of top 10 […]

  2. March 5, 2015

    […] is an effective strategy to transcend sadness. Playing an instrument or singing is even better. Music and Happiness comes in at number 6. I listed 15 of my favorite songs that never fail to put me in a good mood. […]

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