Psychology of Music And Happiness

Music and dance are perhaps the best-known mood elevators known to the world.

And if you add friends and food to the experience, then it becomes a “blast” of happiness. But how does this mix of music, dance, and friends turn your head into a swirling swimming pool of joyful sensations?

Heady Mix: Music Festivals In October

October in many regions of the world is a season of music and dance. Coachella canceled its plans for the year 2021, while other festivals such as Lollapalooza had no dates to declare because of Covid.

Europe had Unsound, Donau, and Norberg, while Norway had Ekko, and Graz, Austria has Elevate.

In the Americas, Denver hosts the Great American Techno Fest, and Mexico is known to host MutekMx.

Then there is Robot in Bologna, Italy, and Ade in Amsterdam.

music happiness

Why Do We Listen To Music?

Listening to music may serve a range of dynamic functions throughout our lives. It is a common activity that most of us indulge in from childhood through adulthood and into late old age (Laukka, 2007; Juslin et al., 2008).

For some people, it is their main source of entertainment. For others, it is a way to unwind and relax. For others, it is a way to get to sleep.

Some people listen to music to avoid boredom (music, in fact, activates the entire brain.). Some find it a way to feel more connected to others.

Most of us who enjoy listening to music knows that each generation prefers a particular genre of music. Since, it is a way to experience a sense of belonging to a group (like an age group), or a community (like teens who love a particular singer), music can be a recognizable ‘logo’ for different social classes.

Jenny M. Groarke and Michael J. Hogan’s research identifies 11 key adaptive functions of music that reflect the role music plays in our lives: Stress Reduction, Anxiety Regulation, Anger Management, Loneliness Management, Rumination, Reminiscence, Strong Emotional Experiences, Awe and Appreciation, Cognitive Regulation, Identity, and Sleep.

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Music and Happiness

US psychologists Ferguson and Sheldon showed that students who listened to just 12 minutes of “happy” music while trying to feel happier experienced higher elevations in the mood.

In the second part of their study, they instructed participants to try to become happier intentionally. These participants reported higher increases in happiness after listening to positively attractive music during five separate visits over two weeks.

Their studies show that listening to positive music may be an effective way to improve happiness, particularly when combined with an intention to become happier.

“Our work provides support for what many people already do – listen to music to improve their moods,” said Yuna Ferguson, lead author of the study that was published in the Journal of Positive Psychology.

Pharrell Williams - Happy (Video)

Dance and Happiness

When there’s music that makes us want to dance, it is an experience that is called a groove. Groove is defined as “the sensation of wanting to move some part of your body in relation to some aspect of the music,” as per Madison (2006).

Janata et al. (2012), asked many participants to describe this sensation of the groove in their own words. Based on their most frequently used words, they arrived at this definition: “Groove is the aspect of the music that induces a pleasant sense of wanting to move along with the music.”

The surprising thing is that groove is experienced even when the listeners are presented with unfamiliar music.

Once you start dancing, it becomes a physical exercise giving you the happiness-benefits of exercise activity. “Exercise generates the release of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine in the brain. Exercise increases the brain’s learning and memory capacities,” said John Ratey (2008).

People’s mood significantly increased after exercising.

– John Ratey
Old Movie Stars Dance to Uptown Funk

Friends and Happiness

Friends make us happier. We know this instinctively.

We also seem to believe that those with somewhat a larger circle of friends are happier than others, or at least appear to be so. With these culturally inbred beliefs, when we look towards science for validation, Positive Psychology researchers have this to say:

“We are happier when we are with other people (as compared to when we are alone)—and this holds for all of us, the introverts as well as the extroverts.”

They also concluded that happier people are more sociable. And the more sociable the people were, the happier they were found to be. It works both ways. This study suggests that a large circle of friends, averaging around 3 to 6 in number, is the key to well-being in middle life.

“As residential mobility decreases and economic recession deepens in the United States, the optimal social-networking strategy might shift from the broad but shallow to the narrow but deep, even in a nation known best for the strength of weak ties,” said the researchers Shigehiro Oishi of the University of Virginia and Selin Kesebir of the London Business School.

Statistical analysis of the Facebook network shows that people who smile tend to have more friends. Smiling gets us an average of one extra friend.

Psychology warns us, that we need to pick our friends carefully. We should choose those who are inherently happy – otherwise, we risk their unhappiness spreading to us. Having unhappy friends over time makes us less happy.

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Final Words

Music appeals to everyone, from babies to the elderly. It is something that the vast majority of us experience and enjoy for one reason or another. It is a powerful force that tugs at our heartstrings.

Research has shown that listening to sad music can prolong our negative moods. Called musical rumination, such states are associated with lower subjective, psychological, and social well-being.

On the flip side, music can make the tiniest of events seem monumental—and the next thing you know, you’re listening to your favorite band play on repeat.

With the rise of smartphones, it has become simpler to let the music dictate our moods and minds. We might listen to our favorite sad songs while commuting to feel melancholic, or we can listen to some peaceful music to unwind after a hard day.

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Read surprising facts from science on Friendship & Happiness!

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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy—a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes popular science articles on happiness, positive psychology, and related topics.

• Our story: Happiness Project

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