Upbeat music sounds better when you make a concerted effort to enjoy it, rather than just listening passively, psychological research finds.
While many people let music flow over them; making the effort to enhance your emotions can be an incredibly rewarding experience.
Across two studies, researchers at the University of Missouri looked at the effect of music on positive emotions (Ferguson & Sheldon, 2013).
In one experiment, published in The Journal of Positive Psychology, people visited a lab five times over two weeks to listen to music they’d selected for 15 minutes:
- Half were told to just listen to the music and not think about their happiness.
- The other half were told to try and feel happier and think about their happiness.
Although both groups said they’d enjoyed the music equally, it was the group that tried to feel happier that actually felt happier after the two weeks.
Another experiment confirmed the results, with participants listening to upbeat music, and trying to make themselves happy, feeling better than those who just listened passively.
Crucially, though, trying to make yourself happier only worked when the music was upbeat.
The study’s lead author, Yuna Ferguson, pointed out a pitfall with actively seeking happiness from music.
She counsels against continually asking yourself “Am I happy?”:
“Rather than focusing on how much happiness they’ve gained and engaging in that kind of mental calculation, people could focus more on enjoying their experience of the journey towards happiness and not get hung up on the destination.”
The study’s co-author, Professor Kennon Sheldon, said the study demonstrates our potential to change our own levels of happiness:
“…we can intentionally seek to make mental changes leading to new positive experiences of life.
The fact that we’re aware we’re doing this, has no detrimental effect.”
Why not try it right now with your own favourites, or one of the upbeat pieces of classical music used in the study (Aaron Copland’s ‘Hoe-Down’ from the ballet ‘Rodeo’):