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Some Monday Inspiration

Music is the only language in which you cannot say a mean or sarcastic thing.”

John Erskine

I’m happy to report that since moving in December we’ve gotten organized and have found “a place for everything with everything stored in its place” (as my dad would have said). Even with that organization though, I have found myself still wondering from time to time where did I store something I know I have somewhere. Last week I had a bit of a minor crisis in thinking I may have lost my new Apple AirPods that were a gift from my daughter at Christmas a year ago. I was upset because they have both practical and sentimental value and after asking my wife for help, I was amazed once again at her ability to find things which are often right in front of me and sure enough, she found them in one of my own bathroom drawers. Crisis resolved!

Anyway, in thinking about possibly having misplaced those AirPods, I realized that since I started working from home the past few years and no longer commuting, and now that I’m working longer hours that sometimes costs me my time in my gym, I often don’t get to listen to music the way I used to. So for the few days since my wife found my EarPods as I end my last sessions and update my notes, I’ve started listening to music that I enjoyed in my youth. It amazes me how music can instantly evoke the joy and excitement I had years ago during summers at the beach, when falling in love with my wife, or when pushing myself to the limits riding a bicycle or running long distances.

I wondered how it is that music has that impact on me, and how much music had played such an important part of my mother’s family and had later influenced our own family as I was growing up. So I did some reading about music last week and discovered some most interesting things I never knew before. I didn’t know babies can hear music in the womb and that as they do their heart rates will adjust to a music’s rhythms just as our heart rates as adults will adjust to a music’s rhythms. Listening to music can release dopamine in our brains and give us a pleasurable feeling, essentially helping us to experience joy. Many songs are stored in our memory in such a way that just hearing a certain song years later will take us back instantly to the time and place we enjoyed that song or had maybe heard it for the first time. I didn’t know that listening to upbeat music for two weeks can successfully lift people out of depression.

As I read all that interesting information, I recalled how in high school when I would be feeling down, I would find myself listening to music by Pink Floyd and when I was generally in much better spirits I enjoyed music from Led Zeppelin. I can still remember the first song that played at a high school dance when I slow danced with the girl I fell in love with and who would end up being my wife a few years later. I can remember hymns my parents used to love to sing in church when I was growing up and I can remember the songs that were always played at certain holidays like Christmas.

To this day if I hear a Led Zeppelin song it will take me back to happy times in high school and if I hear the song that played when I danced with my wife the first time it will stir love in my heart and fond memories of the magic of that moment almost forty years ago. I can better understand how hearing a hymn my father loved to sing will make me feel on the verge of tears as I realize all the years he was in my life and how they are gone forever now, and when I hear the first Christmas Carols towards the end of the year I can instantly start thinking about fun memories from childhood.

Music has been an integral part of human culture for centuries. It is a universal language that can evoke powerful emotions and influence mood, behavior, and even physiology. The psychological effects of music have been extensively studied, and research has shown that music can have a profound impact on our mental and emotional well-being.

One of the most well-known psychological effects of music is its ability to elicit emotions. Music has the power to transport us to different emotional states, from happy and energetic to sad and contemplative. Research has shown that different types of music can activate different emotions in listeners. For example, fast-paced, upbeat music is often associated with positive emotions such as happiness, excitement, and energy, while slower, more melancholic music can evoke feelings of sadness, nostalgia, and introspection.

Credit to UC Berkley News
Credit to UC Berkeley News

In addition to evoking emotions, music can also have a powerful effect on our physiology. Research has shown that music can lower blood pressure, reduce heart rate, and even decrease levels of stress hormones like cortisol. This is particularly true for calming, slow-tempo music such as classical or meditative music. Music therapy is a growing field that uses music to help treat a variety of physical and mental health conditions, from anxiety and depression to chronic pain and dementia.

There is a video I like to turn on when I have a few hours off on a Sunday afternoon which shows sea turtles swimming around reefs while some beautiful and relaxing music plays in the background. Watching those graceful turtles and feeling the relaxing music reminds me of the hours upon hours I used to snorkel off the coast of Hawaii when I lived there in the early 1990’s. Those were some of the most beautiful and peaceful moments of my life when I would be truly awed by nature. I love how the music and underwater scenes in that video can make me feel that same familiar feeling of being truly content in those moments long ago. I’ve tried watching that video without the music just to compare and it is definitely the music that gives my spirit that feeling of joy and peace!

Music can also have social and cultural effects on individuals and groups. Shared musical experiences can foster a sense of community and belonging, and music can serve as a means of communication and self-expression. Music can also shape our identities and cultural values, particularly in relation to the music we listen to as adolescents and young adults. For example, studies have shown that people who listen to heavy metal or rap music may be more likely to engage in risky or aggressive behavior than those who prefer classical or pop music.

Another psychological effect of music is its ability to enhance cognitive function. Research has shown that listening to music can improve memory, attention, and concentration. This is particularly true for classical music, which has been shown to have a positive impact on spatial-temporal reasoning and language skills. Some studies have also suggested that learning to play a musical instrument can have a positive effect on cognitive function, especially in children.

Reading about the findings in those studies made me remember how my grandmother could immediately sing the words of a hymn if she heard the music even though dementia had impaired much of the rest of her cognitive functioning to the point of forgetting her grandchildren and later even her own children. It was as if the music had a portal to a place my grandmother could still remember, and she would still have the joy in her eyes as she sang while the rest of the time she was left with mostly a blank expression. I loved seeing how music could transform her like that in her final years with those small moments of joy.

So I’m sharing this to encourage you to think about music and to listen to some especially if it’s been awhile since you have. Think of songs that you remember that might have accompanied some of your happiest memories and find those songs to play again today. Think of songs you may have learned as a child and how they made you feel when you sang them and try singing them again today. Whether you want to listen to music for enjoyment, relaxation, or therapeutic relief, realize that as you’re listening you’re also making a great investment in your physiological and psychological wellbeing – and realize you’re worth that investment!

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