Music is universal, but can it make people happy?

Posted on Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Do you listen to Katy Perry because you really like her music or because it's the trendy thing to do? Chances are you will experience greater happiness if you're not just trying to fit in. We all know that listening to music is among the most pleasurable activities in our day to day routine, but a recent University of Ottawa study by PhD student Amélie Morinville and professors Dave Miranda and Patrick Gaudreau of the School of Psychology explored how and why music contributes to our overall happiness.

The team of researchers distributed a 28 question survey to 229 university students in their late teens, part of a larger research project on music and youth which contained over 200 questions. One of the aims of the study was to determine the motives behind music listening as well as the amount of time spent listening to music. They found that on average, teens listened to approximately two hours of music per day. However, what was surprising was that the amount of time spent listening to music did not necessarily correlate to the amount of happiness experienced. Rather, the research shows that it is the motives behind music listening that are significant. As Morinville explains “The reasons why we listen to music are more important for happiness than the amount of time we spend listening to music.”

Listening to a certain band or artist because we judge that it is a meaningful, important personal activity that is a part of our identity can lead to more life satisfaction than if we listen to certain music simply because it is perceived as “cool” or because of peer pressure to fit in. In short, the researchers found that listening to music for self-directed reasons may increase general happiness.

So does this mean we should indulge in our musical guilty pleasures in order to achieve greater overall happiness? How do we maximize the amount of pleasure derived from music? Professor Miranda sums it up nicely: “In music, and in general, be yourself and let others be themselves.”

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