When I'm feeling blah and need to pump myself up, I open Spotify, play the list of tunes I keep just for this purpose, and almost instantly felt better. Listening to music is almost like free therapy: by the end of an hour, or even a three- minute song by Katrina and the Waves, I’m seriously walking on sunshine.
Music not only reflects the kind of mood we are in, but it also affects our moods. Listening to music can shift our mood and energy level and help us overcome feelings of sadness and stress. Some call it mood maintenance, saying that our music selection is a form of psychological self-help, self-care, and emotional regulation. And if you think it’s just humans feeling the benefits of music in our every day lives, there’s a Wisconsin psychologist, Charles T. Snowden, who with David Teje of the National Symphony Orchestra, has researched and found that the components of music that affect us emotionally also affect other species.
Because music activates every region of our brain, our brain chemistry can be altered through the use of music. So if you’re looking for ways to boost your mood try these techniques on for size.
(Scroll down for our mood-boosting playlist.)
Play What You Know
Studies have found that when people pick out and listen to their most favorite songs, they experience less anxiety. Self-selected music means you get to choose your feeling state. Asking questions like, What do I want to feel like right now? What kind of music always makes me feel good? will help you pick the right song for the moment.
Play What You Love
When we listen to music that gives us chills, or that we just love, our brains release dopamine, a chemical that produces positive feelings. Even the anticipation of a song, or of a downbeat or a break in rhythm while the song is playing, gets the dopamine flowing. "Music appears to correspond with activation of the reward circuitry in our brain," says Penn State, Shenango psychology professor Yuna Ferguson. "That is, our brain, when listening to music we like, responds in a similar way to other pleasurable experiences like food and sex."
Choose Positive Music
If you want to feel better, it makes sense to put on music that is “happy” or “positive.” That means nothing discordant, with sounds that don’t work together. Although the music itself matters, pairing it with intention boosts happiness. A study Ferguson published in The Journal of Positive Psychology found that participants who were given “happy” music to listen to and instructions to try to feel happy reported higher positive mood than those simply given the happy music without the instructions.
Go for Fast, Predictable, and Beat-Heavy
Doing research for Rara.com, neuroscientist Jack Lewis P.h.D. researched different songs that stimulated feel-good emotions. He found that a fast pace, a predictable melody, and a punchy beat are all key elements. He has created a playlist based off his findings that you can access here. According to Ferguson, "Research suggests that, generally, music that is in major keys, rather than minor keys, and has a fast tempo is more likely to be associated with positive moods — happiness and vitality. Pop music might fit the bill. Individuals respond differently to music, too. A piece that is thought to be 'angry' by some might arouse feelings of energy and excitement in others."
Include Acapella (Yes, Seriously)
Dr. Lewis also found that acapella music taps into our emotional side because of the connection between the singer and listener. “When we hear emotion in a human voice, our brains are tuned to feel some of this emotion ourselves,” he told the Daily Mail. “This is fundamental to empathy. The harmonization between several voices will activate the reward pathways and can make you feel on top of the world.”
Include Nostalgic Tunes
When I put on music from the 80s and 90s, I go crazy. I’m suddenly smiling at the lyrics of Bell Biv DeVoe and laughing at the good memories of what my friends and I were doing while "Hey Jealousy" by the Gin Blossoms blasted on the radio. "What seems to happen is that a piece of familiar music serves as a soundtrack for a mental movie that starts playing in our head," cognitive neuroscientist Petr Janata at the University of California, Davis, explained to LiveScience. "It calls back memories of a particular person or place, and you might all of a sudden see that person's face in your mind's eye." So if you pick music that reminds you of good times in your past, you’ll likely feel great in the present.
Last but Not Least, Try Chanting
Although you can listen to different kinds of chants, another great way to boost your mood is by actually chanting on your own. Think of it like creating your own music, on the go, when you need a quick mood fixer. The vibration releases and relaxes the nervous system, which in turn makes you feel better.
So the next time you’re feeling a bit blue, try experimenting with the different techniques above, or below check out the playlist I listen to when I need a boost. You might just find that you have more to sing about than you thought.
Image: Yuriy Shevtsov - Fotolia.com