7 Science-Backed Ways Music Helps You Feel Good

• 10 min read 10


I do it all the time. Angry, sad or depressed. I turn to music to fix my soul and feel good. I am not the only one though. Millions of people will agree. Science does too.

Music soothes you. You might have heard this somewhere. You might have even experienced this for real. I have for sure. For years, music has been a friend I can rely on no matter what the situation I am going through.

I listen to music almost throughout the day. Everyday. Working? Headphones on. Depressed? Thinking? Headphones on. Anxious? Headphones on, play Uptown Funk. Maybe that’s why I am also known as The Headphones Guy at the office (sorry guys, I’m wired in 🎧).

Have you ever felt the same? Or do you have an important place for music in your life? Have you ever felt when nothing works out in calming you down, some good music instantly helps?

You are not alone. Millions of people around us experience the same. Music is even professionally applied for treating people with depression, anxiety or those who are undergoing chronic pain. The concept is called Music Therapy. It’s quite popular these days.

This healing power of music became so popular that people started conducting various surveys and research around the positive effects of music on our lives. There have been countless studies to date.

I realize you must be thinking – enough chatting, give me what I came for already. Okay, then. Here are 7 ways in which music improves our lives and makes us feel good, backed by science.

1. Makes you happy

Yes, listening to Pharrell Williams’ Happy can actually make you happy and get you out of a bad mood. A study at the University of Missouri shows that listening to upbeat and cheerful music can make you happy. [1] There’s, however, a small catch.

The research indicates that if you actually try to be happy or think about being happy while listening to music, you will actually feel happier at the end of the track. You have to be proactive in the process [2]

Music releases a lot of dopamine – the feel-good chemical

Don’t consider music as a magical potion that will wash away all the sadness in your life. Think of it as a cheerleader who will help you to be happy if you actually try to be. Think of happy moments. Enjoy the track. Relish the moment. Make this a habit and you will know how to ditch sadness and be happy (consider this your Patronus charm 😉).

Researchers at McGill University, Canada found out that you are more likely to recall past happy memories if you listen to positive and cheerful music. [3] It sort of acts as a trigger to help you recall those lovely moments fast and easy.

The opposite works as well. If you listen to sad songs, you are more likely to recall broken moments from your past (oh, those breakups).

If you have ever heard of dopamine, you might know that it’s commonly known as the mood-enhancing chemical. It’s the same chemical which is released in excess when you get a lot of money or are making love (read sex).

According to a study published by Nature America, music seems to release a lot of dopamine as well. [4] This mainly happens during the peak stages of the track you are listening to. Ever had those goosebump moments when listening to a song? This explains why.

Put on a nice track, relive those happy moments, release those chemicals. Whatever. Just be happy. Try Avicii’s The Nights for a start.

2. Helps you fight depression

WHO estimates about 300 million people are affected by depression worldwide. It’s not uncommon to feel depressed. Owing to any mental trouble like career issue or financial crisis, depression can catch up with you in no time.

Good news, you can fill up that emptiness inside you with some good music. The latest finding shows that listening to positive mood music can actually help you have a positive outlook towards life and get out of depression. [5]

After a 30 min session, I feel relaxed, positive and happy

This trick works even better when you are listening to music in groups and discuss some positive aspect of each other’s lives. Don’t start organizing that jamming session yet. There’s more to know.

The kind of music you are listening to and your topic of discussion affects your mood too. Listening to sad tunes and discussing your tough moments with your friends can actually backfire on you. It can make you feel more depressed (phew, that was close, gotta be careful).

Choose wisely the kind of music you want to listen to during a particular situation. If you are feeling depressed, try for something uplifting. This works for me pretty well.

After a 30 min session, I feel more relaxed, positive and happy. This approach helped me a lot when I was depressed looking for a job for weeks. Kept me going through the rough times (thanks, dear friend).

There’s no age limit on this. Even older adults have shown to reduce their levels of depression after listening to music regularly for a month. [6] Regardless of your age, music can help you fight depression and feel good.

3. Takes stress off your mind

Stress is another growing worldwide health concern. You might find yourself stressed out at work or over a bad relationship. It’s pretty common these days. Ever found yourself in such situation? Fear no more. Music is here to help.

A study at McGill University, Canada indicates that listening to or playing music can reduce levels of cortisol in your body. [7] Cortisol is the main culprit behind you getting stressed out (bad boy, or girl maybe). An increased level of cortisol can induce greater stress in you.

Thankfully, engaging in musical activities or even just listening to a track can keep a check on your cortisol levels, help you relax and thus keep your stress low – at work or at home.

Another study at Stanford University has shown that the rhythm of the music you are listening to can influence your brain’s rhythm. [8] This means that relaxing music such as strings, jazz, flutes, and drums can make your brain relax and be less stressed out from life. [9]

This doesn’t mean that you should make a collection of music that you don’t like just for the sake of calming down your mind. That doesn’t work. In fact, it creates more tension listening to music that you don’t enjoy than actually reducing stress.

I tried out Mozart once, in hopes of sharpening up my brain (yeah, some blog post said so). Instead of making me smarter, the music made me bored af and I gave up pretty soon on that sort of music (sorry Mozart, you’re not my type). It felt like a punishment to me to listen to those tracks (no offense intended). Rather than enjoying the music I was actually stressing myself out.

Choose some soothing tracks that you like and listen to them. It will help you tank your stress levels. I listen to artists like Coldplay and John Mayer and it seems to do the trick for me (😻). Find out what works for you. A general template doesn’t work out for everybody – we are different.

4. Gets you over a nasty breakup

Breakups are hard to get over. Particularly, if you have been in a serious and strong relationship with that other person.

At that moment, you need someone to resonate your feelings. Someone to tell you that the world hasn’t ended. That you are not the only one who is going through the situation. Someone to be your friend. I have been there. I know the feeling.

Getting over a Breakup
Photo Credit: Tom Pumford

According to a study published by the University of Chicago, people actually prefer listening to sad songs that match their mood when they have lost someone important. Listening to sad breakup songs after a breakup helps people feel more connected and better instead of making them further depressed. [10][11]

This is in contrary to what we have discussed before that happy and uplifting music makes you happy while sad songs bring you down. The key factor in here is resonance. You being able to relate your current emotions with the lyrics of the song is comforting enough.

Listening to someone singing the exact situation that you are going through helps you connect with the song and let your feelings flow out. It gives you a closer look at what’s really happening to you at that moment (thank you, Adele).

Another possible explanation for this is a phenomenon called sweet anticipation. [12] When you expect something to happen and it happens, it gives you a feeling of pleasure (sweet anticipation).

Listening to sad songs you expect to be sad and the song to match your feelings. When this happens, you get a sense of fulfillment. This little sensation can make you happy.

Going through a rough time? Spin up a hit breakup record and get some closure. Try Adele’s Someone Like You.

5. Makes you less anxious

Anxiety is the leading mental disorder in the world. According to the University of Queensland, about 1 in every 13 adults worldwide, has anxiety problems. I am guessing the actual number is more than that.

Anxiety is very common. You are pretty likely to get clouded by negative thoughts about your future or might have already experienced so.

Listening to music can beat anxiety more effectively than prescription drugs

Listening to relaxing music calms you down and reduces anxiety by a considerable margin according to a study conducted by the University of Bochum, Germany. [13]

Researchers at McGill University found out that listening to music can beat anxiety more effectively than prescription drugs. [14] Not only is this a cheap way to deal with anxiety but also more natural than taking in pills.

Make this a habit and anxiety will never be a problem for you. Who knew Coldplay can actually make you feel less anxious? (thanks, Chris Martin 👏🏻)

You can take this even further by opting to listen to specially designed tracks commonly known as binaural beats. These are soundtracks that help you fall into a relaxed meditation type state in no time. Think of these as carefully crafted music intended to make you relax, concentrate or fall asleep.

According to a study conducted by Clinic Psyché in Montreal, listening to binaural beats for as low as 1 hour per week has shown to reduce anxiety by a good amount. [15]

Thankfully, you don’t have to scuba dive to the bottom of the ocean to find these relaxing tunes. There are apps that let you listen to these beats anytime, anywhere. You can download such an app for both Android and iOS.

6. Makes you experience less pain

Going in for a root canal or any operations that involve pain? Take your headphones with you. Listening to music during a painful procedure makes you less sensitive to pain. [16][17]

You will need a smaller amount of morphine to cut down your pain after a surgery if you have been listening to music during and after the process. [18]

Music deviates your attention from the procedure to itself. The more you get engrossed in the music, the less likely you are to pay attention to the prick of that needle. Simple. Yet effective (and I forget to carry my headphones every single time, damn).

This holds good for cancer patients as well. A study shows that just 30 mins of a preferred music cut down the sensation of pain by 50% in some cancer patients (🙀). [18] And for patients with chronic muscle pain as well. 4 weeks after starting to listen to music on a regular basis, patients reported less pain in their body. [19]

It doesn’t stop there. If you have bone pain with conditions like rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis, listening to music can help relieve some pain. In fact, regular music sessions can decrease your pain by about 20%. [20][21]

The key here is to really get engrossed in the music so that you pay less attention to the pain. Choose tracks that you really like and it will work wonders for you.

7. Strengthens your hope and positivity

Hope is a powerful weapon. It can get us through the toughest time without falling down to our knees and giving up. Good news for you. Music can level up your hope (pfft, like we needed another reason to play some good tracks).

Listening to uplifting music can strengthen your hope further and give you the ultimate boost of positivity when you need a silver lining.

According to a study conducted by Tel-Aviv University in Israel, listening to positive music can actually boost your hope levels. [22] If you already have a positive outlook towards life, it can serve an extra mile.

Speaking of positivity, listening to music with strong hopeful and positive lyrics can spark and grow positive thoughts in your mind and change the way you look at the meaning of life. [23] Who needs some positivity pills? Whoops! My bad. I meant positivity tunes (😁).

I don’t know about you but I have noticed this effect to a good extent. Listening to songs such as Avicii’s The Nights or Imagine Dragons’ Rise Up or Overtone’s Colorblind makes me feel more charged up towards my goals and dreams. Listening to these songs sends my confidence and positivity levels through the roof.

No wonder these kinds of songs are on heavy rotation on my playlist (ask Apple Music).

Try it out for yourself. You will feel the difference. I am certain of it.

What to do?

Since you have made it this far, you have read enough on how music can make you feel good. Now it’s time to put that into actual use and reap all the benefits. It’s easy. Oh yeah, cheap too.

  • Get yourself a good pair of headphones or earphones, preferably noise cancellation ones (I use a Sony MDR-1000X)
  • Subscribe to Apple Music or Spotify or any other music streaming service (I prefer 🍎Music)
  • Start listening to music during work or your commute (but don’t lock yourself out from the world too much though)
  • Be careful not to go too loud when listening or risk damaging your ears (raising the volume occasionally is fine)
  • Be mindful of your surroundings when you are roaming outside with headphones on (I usually switch to the Ambient Mode on my pair to turn off noise cancellation)
  • Here’s a playlist to get you started (now you know me better 😉)
  • Enjoy your time

Now that you have reached the end of this article, why don’t put your headphones on and play some tunes?

Start off with the playlist above.

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