Music Therapy: Find the Rhythm of Happiness

December 19, 2016

The Greeks defined music as the “art of the muses.” According to the traditional definition, music is the art of noticeably and logically organizing a combination of coherent sounds and silences. It uses the fundamental principles of melody, harmony, and rhythm, through the intervention of complex psychological processes. These processes are the focus of music therapy.

The rhythms, harmonies, and melodies that constitute music have been used in medical treatments for a long time. While it’s true that music is not a cure itself, today many therapies count on music as a complement to therapy due to the direct benefits it has on improving one’s mood and reducing the symptoms of certain illnesses. Medical studies have demonstrated its effects on blood pressure, heart rate, and even oxygen level in the blood. Impressive, right?

“Music lifts broken spirits and alleviates the problems that arise from the spirit.”

-Miguel de Cervantes-

How does music affect us?

Researches at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland developed a method to study how the brain processes different aspects of music. One of the most innovative discoveries was that the limbic system, an area of the brain associated with emotions, is directly affected by rhythm and tonality.

The researchers also observed that timbre is linked to the activation of the default neural network, a set of regions that could be responsible for the activity that develops in the mind while it’s at rest, and that has also been linked with daydreaming and creativity.

Just like with any other stimulus, listening to music produces very different responses in us. These responses are a particular representation of what the notes we hear and our own experience suggest.

We project our personalities through our musical taste, and we can use it to communicate our feelings and moods to others.

two people leaping

“Music is the art which is most nigh to tears and memories.”

-Oscar Wilde-

Music therapy can make you happier

Have you ever wondered where that feeling of wellbeing comes from when you listen to your favorite song over and over again? Music therapy has the answer. The activation of the nucleus accumbens causes the brain to release dopamine every time you listen to your favorite music, the same thing that happens with sexual attraction or any other pleasurable experience.

Two new studies published in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that when participants listened to positive or optimistic music for two weeks, their short-term moods improved notably and their happiness increased, but only if they focused on intentionally trying to be happier. Listening to sad songs produced the inverse effect.

The author pointed out that it’s better to focus more on enjoying the positive situation one is experiencing, instead of evaluating one’s level of happiness over and over again.

brain activation

According to the author, “research suggests that happiness relates to a higher probability of socially beneficial behavior, better physical health, higher income and greater relationship satisfaction.”

“Who hears music, feels his solitude peopled at once.”

-Robert Browning-

Music and Emotions