Music can change our mood instantly. What exactly does music do to your brain and how can you use it to become happier? Research suggests that we spend around 40% of our waking time listening to music (actively or passively) and it affects our emotions and feelings around 60% of the time we spend listening to it. It's no wonder that happy music is more likely to put you in a good mood and sad music is likely to well… help you spiral down into an abyss of despair. But more on that later.
The evolution of music When we compare the humans today with our cavemen ancestors, we have a couple of things in common when it comes to music. We have the ability to create and respond to music and dance or move to the beat. Already babies can hear their mothers' heart beating from inside the womb. And newborns are easily soothed by their mothers’ heartbeat and voice. We grow up with sound and music all around. It's simply a part of us. That is why children love to clap their hands or bang on the table with a spoon pretending to be drumming. As you can see, we learn to respond to rhythm from a very early stage of our lives.
Of course our preference for sounds and music changes over time. By the way, have you ever heard a song that sent "chills" down your spine? This experience of “chills” is connected to the reward system in your brain. Music which you find pleasurable can activate the same areas in your brain like drugs or alcohol.
Our brain on music Studies show that the right hemisphere of the brain is preferentially activated when we are listening to a song we find emotional. What’s even more fascinating, is that this side of the brain is activated even when we’re just imaging the music. Music is also used as a type of therapy and has even been proven successful in treating clinical depression and seizures.
Music can be used in deliberately regulating your emotions. If we can steer our emotional states by listening to a certain type of music, then why not just play happy music everywhere at all times? Well, it get a bit more complicated. Different people prefer kinds of music and more importantly react differently to a specific songs. So while classical music might be relaxing for one person, another person might find it annoying. Needless to say, listening to music which you find annoying is not going to help you relax very much.
The best way to use music as a tool for increasing the happiness levels in your life is to find out what works for you. Just think - which songs make you smile? Sound and rhythm have been a part of us before we were even born and this just goes to show that music simply belongs in our lives. We all need a soundtrack to our lives, right?
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