I love driving. Whether it’s a freeway or a traffic jam, my playlist keeps me banging my head and playing air guitar. I had the worst days of my life overturned with the very first beats of the right song coming on the radio at the right time. These are genuine moments of happiness for me. And I’m sure I’m not alone.

Does music affect your mood? Of course, but the real question is how.

As current research suggests, music can affect mood, memory, learning and attention. But it is clear that not all people are affected the same way. Think about any office. Some people can be productive no matter what kind of music is playing, others are comfortable only with white noise (people talking in a café, sounds of rain) while some need complete silence to work.

How music affects your brain

But let’s get back to mood. It goes well beyond the simplest explanation that ‘I heard a song I like, therefore my mood improved’. Music touches your brain, all of it. Music affects the limbic system, the prefrontal cortex and the parietal lobe. Music helps your brain release serotonin and dopamine, body’s natural happiness drugs.

That’s why music therapy is so potent. It has been used to help with autism, depression, even stuttering. Even marketing experts closely study music because they know that some tunes will encourage you to feel happier and spend more time in their stores.

The rabbit hole goes even deeper

We all have seen the Rocky movies. We all know how ‘The eye of the tiger’ makes us (and Sylvester Stallone) motivated to take on every challenge the world throws at us. But this goes beyond the song. Music affects the brain waves for way longer than the song lasts. The effect can last for hours and even days.

I know it all sounds very positive and at this point you may be wondering, can music have a negative effect on your mood. Here’s the thing, unless we are being tortured, we don’t normally have to listen to music we don’t like. If we don’t like a certain song, we turn it off. That’s why research on music’s positive effects on our mood overwhelms the negative. But there is some that clearly proves that ‘sad’ music has the opposite effect on us – it makes us less confident in our abilities and more depressed.

Any music works

The most surprising piece of research I’ve found claims that any music can have uplift your spirit. While there are favorites, like Beethoven, Queen, the aforementioned ‘The eye of the tiger’ by the Survivor, any kind of music you like from pop to metal can make you happy. Does that mean there are people that become happy by listening to Rebecca Black’s infamous ‘Friday’?

So, while you don’t have to fix your playlist, pay attention to music that makes you truly happy. But don’t set it as your alarm. Trust me on this.


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