The popularity of music festivals and online sites like Spotify and Pandora shows just how much music is part of our culture, but researchers continue to find that music can also be an integral part of our health.
Scientists at the University of Missouri have found that people can boost their mood simply by listening to upbeat music.
“Our work provides support for what many people already do—listen to music to improve their moods,” said lead author Yuna Ferguson in a press release. “Although pursuing personal happiness may be thought of as a self-centered venture, research suggests that happiness relates to a higher probability of socially beneficial behavior, better physical health, higher income, and greater relationship satisfaction.”
People can successfully improve their moods and boost their overall happiness in just two weeks, according to Ferguson's research, published in The Journal of Positive Psychology.
In the study, participants improved their mood after being told to try to do so, but they only succeeded when they listened to the upbeat music of Copland, as opposed to the sadder tunes of Stravinsky. Other participants, who simply listened to the music without attempting to change their mood, didn't report an increase in happiness.
For people to put the research into practice, however, they should be wary of too much introspection into their mood or constantly asking, “Am I happy yet?” Ferguson added.
"People could focus more on enjoying their experience of the journey towards happiness and not get hung up on the destination," Ferguson said.
But music isn’t just good for elevating our mood. Another recent study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that people who are going through break-ups or having relationship problems prefer music and experiences that reflect their negative mood.
One study showed that the preference for sad music was significantly higher when people experienced an interpersonal loss as opposed to an impersonal loss, such as losing a game.
In another study, people were presented with various frustrating situations and asked to rate angry music versus joyful or relaxing music. Consumers liked angry music more when they were frustrated by interpersonal violations, like being stood up on a date, than by impersonal hassles, like not having Internet access.
Music As Therapy
This music research aligns with the larger arena of music therapy, defined by the American Music Therapy Association as "the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals."
Music therapy has been used for centuries as a way to restore energy, improve mood, and even help the body heal more naturally.
Dr. Frank Lipman, founder and director of Eleven-Eleven Wellness Center in New York City and a pioneer in integrative and functional medicine, recommends musical time-outs as a way to calm your body and brain with soothing rhythms and to slow down your heart rate and help you breathe easier.
“My go-to, slow-it-down favorite tunes include anything by reggae genius Bob Marley or brain wave music master, Jonathan Goldman,” he wrote on his blog.
Making Your Own Music
While listening to music has great health benefits, making your own, especially through singing and chanting, is also therapeutic.
A study published in the International Journal of Yoga showed that chanting the word “Om” was about as effective as implanting a vagus nerve stimulator (VNS). A VNS, which requires surgery and can affect the vocal cords, is beneficial for the treatment of both epilepsy and depression.
Both implantation of the VNS and chanting "Om" produce limbic deactivation, the opposite of what happens when we are depressed.
Emily Lewis, a graduate student at the California Institute of Integral Studies who studies sound and healing, has focused her thesis on vocal improvisation and its effects on the brain.
“Listening to music, sound, and healing is all really about relaxing the nervous system,” Lewis said. “It works on a cellular level.”
She examined research on telomeres—the end caps of DNA strands—and found that longer strands are correlated with both longevity and quality of life.
“My research showed that doing vocal singing sessions is a way to bring you into the present moment,” Lewis said. “Vocal improvisation is potentially a mindfulness practice and could be correlated to longer telomere lengths."
She said that singing is doubly beneficial for your body in that it helps relax you, but also helps you to feel energized.