“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.” – Bob Marley
Marley’s lyrics are confirmed by a study conducted at Stanford University, which discovered that people use music the same way they use food or alcohol to relieve stress or emotional pain. Some scientists believe music even predates language, based on flute-like instruments dug up in France, and found to be over 50,000 years old.
From almost the moment we are born, our feelings are influenced by the music we hear. Studies found that five-month-old babies react to happy songs and by nine months they recognized and were affected by sad songs [source: LiveScience].
And, as we grow, the physiological states brought on by music only intensify.
How does music work its magic? One answer lies in a McGill University study in which scientists found the first concrete link for humans between dopamine release and musical pleasure. In the study, researchers were able to link music-induced pleasure with a surge in acute emotional arousal, including changes in heart rate, pulse, breathing rate and other measurements.
Musical tunes featuring a fast tempo and written in a major key have been found to cause a person to breathe faster, which is a physical sign of happiness [source: Leutwyler]. And, sad music, which tends to be in the minor keys and very slow, causes a slowing of the pulse and a rise in blood pressure. Of course, sad music can be as beneficial as happy music, because it can stimulate a good cry or a cathartic release — which can bring about happiness indirectly.
The same studies have found that music activates brain areas associated with memory, which is why songs that remind us of good times (a holiday, a particular person, etc) make us feel happier.
Lastly, music helps make social interactions happier, which explains why music is an essential element of sporting events, birthday parties, and weddings, for example.
A few of my favorite happy songs are:
- Don’t Stop /Fleetwood Mac: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8arvEzHsA8
- Good Vibrations / Beach Boys: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TCeD_6Y3GQc
- Sheryl Crow / Soak Up The Sun http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KIYiGA_rIls
- Bobby McFerrin / Don’t Worry Be Happy http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-diB65scQU
What’s on your list of favorite happy songs?