Music is essential to human happiness and can transform listeners’ emotions, survey finds
- Music might be the key to reducing stress and improving productivity, survey of 12,000 people across 12 countries finds
- More than half of those surveyed found that listening to music could have a positive effect on their mood
Hong Kong musician Paul Maclean has been performing since he was four years old and knows the transformative power of music – its ability to give pleasure and happiness is central to his belief system.
“I can be having a horrible day and then go on stage, and after the first song or two you get this feeling of joy from playing music. You forget anything that was weighing you down or causing grief or sadness,” says Canada-born Maclean, who runs Sunset Studio in Hong Kong and is a member of metal-electronic outfit DP.
But you don’t need to be a professional musician to feel the positive, transformative effects of music. A recent global survey by consumer electronics company Sonos interviewed 12,000 people across 12 countries and found that listening is essential to human happiness, and that music might be the key to reducing stress, improving productivity and being healthier.
More than half (54 per cent) of respondents said that music had made them either laugh or cry unexpectedly, and three out of four respondents said they listened to music to reduce stress. Another 52 per cent said they were happier when listening to a favourite song, and that music helps boost their mood at work (58 per cent).
Results gathered from 1,000 Hong Kong respondents echoed the global findings with 47 per cent of locals interviewed saying that listening to music could have a positive effect on their mood and significantly helped them cope with stress.
“Music bypasses the thinking/cognitive brain and goes straight to your feelings, which is why it is so powerful. It touches deep into your heart and soul,” music therapist Esther Wong says.
She says that people need to express their emotions, but words sometimes aren’t enough. “Music is basically emotion, it is feeling. If one is open to it, you allow music to touch you,” Wong says.
If you have ever listened to music and found yourself in tears, or sensed that something has shifted inside of you, it’s because that piece of music has resonated with you.
Maclean agrees. He points to the music of Icelandic avant-rock band Sigur Rós, whose songs are sung in Vonlenska, also known as Hopelandic, a made-up language without meaning, which resembles the sound of the Icelandic language.
“You can’t decipher the lyrics – there’s no meaning to them other than the beauty of the sounds. This made me realise that language is no barrier when it comes to music. You can make sounds and it’s just beautiful,” Maclean says.
Music can also serve as a personal time machine, reminding listeners of someone or taking them back to a particular time and place, with the emotions of that moment fully intact. For Maclean, it might be the Berlin-based quartet Whitest Boy Alive or 1980s power ballads, such as Def Leppard songs.
“It reminds me of when I was a kid. When I had no bills or real responsibilities. You just had to go to school and then have two months off for the summer,” Maclean says.
When people listen to their preferred music, more areas of the brain are stimulated, says Wong, whose enjoys listening to the world fusion genre, a mix of international music. What works for one person won’t necessarily work for another – the key is to discover what music makes you happy and the positive effects follow.
“When you listen to music, it activates the chemical dopamine in your brain which is responsible for mood elevation. It can help you become more productive or creative,” Wong says.
The Sonos-led study reflected this – one in three respondents said they used music to help them think of new ideas when they were stuck and that it inspired them to do great work. And the fitness-focused know that fast-paced music can have a direct link to performance, with 81 per cent of respondents saying they used music to help them meet their fitness goals.
Wong explains this as “entrainment”, the body’s natural desire to be synchronised to an external rhythm. In the case of the music played at gyms, that fast-paced rhythm serves as a motivator to get you moving faster. Hongkongers know how to use music to help fuel their workouts, with 43.3 per cent surveyed saying they use it to push themselves harder at the gym.
“Music has a huge power to transform our lives in many different ways. One of the key things is emotions – it helps us express ourselves, often things we are not able to express with words. And it helps us reduce stress. We all need that,” Wong says.
And we can do it together – two out of the five Hongkongers surveyed said listening to music as a family helped ease tensions and better connect with their loved ones.