Music makes you feel better

Every month, Martha Roberts invites you to road-test research around feeling good

by Psychologies

happy listening to music

The project

Music can make us feel uplifted, contented and can improve our health, too.

The aim

Whether you’re performing it or listening to it, music can increase your happiness (as well as the happiness of those around you.)

The theory

Music can lift the spirits. But science has now shown it has a physical effect on our bodies, too. As we listen, music works on the autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for controlling blood pressure and heartbeat, as well as the limbic system, which is responsible for feelings and emotions. A review of 23 studies by Bradt & Dileo (in 2009) involving almost 1,500 people found music helped to reduce blood pressure, heart rate and anxiety in heart disease patients.

Music can benefit psychological wellbeing, too. Research from the University of Missouri published in The Journal Of Positive Psychology found for the first time, that upbeat music can have a very positive effect on our wellbeing.

‘People were successful at raising their positive mood as long as the music they listened to was happy and upbeat,’ said Dr Yuna Ferguson, the lead author.

And participating in music-making can also increase our happiness, and help us to get on better with others. A 2013 Finnish study of 1,000 pupils who took singing classes found they reported higher satisfaction at school in almost every area.

Lead researcher Päivi-Sisko Eerola said ‘synchronising’ with each other may ‘even make people like each other more than before’.

Try it out

  • Listen to music every day. Just 25 minutes every day for at least 10 days will help to prevent back pain and make you sleep better. Keep up the habit beyond 10 days if you can.
  • Play music while working out. Experts from Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, USA, say listening to music during exercise can help to release endorphins to increase your endurance, boost your mood and distract you from the discomfort you may feel during your exercise session.
  • Pick music to suit the situation. Any type of classical music, such as pieces by Mozart or Beethoven, can help relieve muscle pain. For an effective, beneficial workout, researchers say the best music is high energy, high tempo music such as hip hop or dance.
  • Join a choir. Experts found that if we actively engage with the music – feeling it rather than letting it simply be in the background – it can give us extra emotional oomph and make us feel happier (Ferguson and Sheldon, 2013).
  • Listen to music while working or studying. If you’re trying hard to crack that difficult report or you’re struggling with the final touches of a dissertation, music could help get your brain in gear. A study of children ages eight to 11 found that those who took extra–curricular music classes, developed higher verbal IQ, and visual abilities, in comparison to those with no musical training (Forgeard et al., 2008).

MARTHA ROBERTS is an award-winning UK health writer and mental health blogger at mentalhealthwise.com

Photograph: iStock

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