Holiday Feel-Good Tip You Can Use All Year: What’s On Your Playlist?
We’re in the thick of the holiday season, and if you’re like me you’re hearing music that brings back fond memories everywhere you go. Do you love holiday music as much as I do this time of year?
“Silver Bells,” “Beautiful Ohio” and “Greensleeves” were three of the simple songs I learned as a 12 year old who didn’t want to practice piano.
Today these tunes bring me back to all the sights, smells and feelings of sitting at the piano in that living room on a quiet street in the suburb where I grew up. These songs bring me the peaceful feeling of family and home for the holidays.
I’ve found that music has therapeutic benefits during the rest of the year, too. On days when I’m dragging, if I want to recapture some excellent energy I turn on my tunes. Elton John’s “Benny and the Jets” and Santana’s “Supernatural” are two of my favorites on a feel-good playlist.
Sometimes it seems that the songs choose us, not the other way around. When I was a single parent, one of my son’s friends introduced me to a re-mix of Ricky Martin’s “La Vida Loca,” a 12-minute stretch of spirited music that got me out of my chair and dancing right there on the spot! Even in the midst of a tiring and busy work week and despite my reluctance to do housework, I’d put that CD on and find myself swirling and swooping a dust cloth around the place, my hips shimmying. How could anyone sit still when this fun, feel-good music rang out?
I can’t say it without laughing: Ricky still gets me. And in the past few years, one of the songs that delights is Will Pharrell’s “Happy.” Of course, these particular songs might not be your jam. Isn’t it amazing how one person can absolutely love a song, while it strikes the wrong chord with someone else? Music is a universal language, but there’s no doubt it’s intensely personal, too.
The role of memories in music-evoked emotion is quite familiar to most people: many people have break-up songs, pieces they listened to during an emotional time that can instantly bring on a specific emotional state. Certain songs remind us of family members, holiday traditions, long lost loves or specific times in our lives.
Music can certainly touch part of us we didn’t know was there. We instinctively know that it impacts our emotions, changes our vibration. But it’s not just a feeling: music’s therapeutic benefits have been well documented scientifically as well. If you haven’t yet seen the film “Alive Inside,” check it out on Netflix at your next opportunity.
The movie documents as patient after patient suffering from degenerative diseases tune into music from pivotal moments in their lives and immediately light up. It’s miraculous: some folks confined to wheelchairs or crutches actually stand up, walk and dance for the first time in years.
Henry, a patient suffering from dementia who his caretakers say hadn’t been very interactive with anyone for quite some time, breaks into song when he hears “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” by an artist he tells the documentarian is one of his favorites, Cab Calloway.
In 2010, researchers at Boston University found that music can not only arouse dormant memories, but may also help people with dementia retain new information. Another study published last year revealed that lifelong musical training can actually offset some of the deleterious effects of aging, including memory loss and difficulty hearing speech. These new findings give me tremendous hope, that no matter what happens, I will always be able to give and receive music.
The movie and accompanying research has inspired thousands of people to believe that they can help someone who is ill or alone through the simple gift of music. It has empowered people to turn potentially painful visits to the nursing home or hospital into a time of joy and beauty. If you would like to try this with a loved one who can’t tell you the names of their favorite songs, guidelines are to choose music from a person’s formative years, music that was popular on the radio when they were in their teens to twenties. If they have a faith or religious background, uplifting music from that tradition typically also stirs strong positive feelings.
What’s On Your Playlist?
Many people listen to music to help them concentrate or do better in a demanding task. The idea of being able to cue the music to lead me right into an activity without thinking twice is a fabulous tool for productivity. Amy Tan, author of “The Joy Luck Club,” uses headphones to spur her writing focus. I am always looking for new songs to spur my creativity.
With music, you can create a calm morning mood to prepare for your day, energize yourself to tackle things you typically procrastinate on at work, woo a lover, get yourself moving for a workout, even soothe yourself to sleep. The music you play for your children or grandchildren will certainly be part of your legacy to them.
So be mindful when creating your playlists, and make sure you mix it up! Discovering new music, new “covers” of old favorites or new artists you’ve never heard before can be an exciting, energizing process. Just start listening with free streaming music services like iTunes or Pandora, and you’ll quickly be exposed to music you might just love. (This is how I discovered pianist Michele McLaughlin, whose stunning “Winter Solstice” has become one of my favorite new holiday tunes). Discover a new favorite artist on Spotify, and you might even find yourself at their concert. Spotify will actually notify you when favorite artists are on tour in your area.