I decided to make a happy playlist. I had been researching for my latest book on how sick people can aid their own self-healing and I had come to the conclusion that happy people recover quicker and live longer. So, how to get happy? My imagination produced loads of options to put into the book, and I invited readers to use these to trigger their own ideas. I tried many of them on myself and one of these was to make a happy playlist. I chose songs that had happy lyrics or upbeat, cheerful tunes.
The first few songs were easy to find, but doing a search under single words like, “happy” or “sunshine” could produce the lively, “I’m walking on sunshine” or the inappropriate “Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone”. I began to see that there are more sad songs than happy ones.
Why are there so many more sad songs than happy ones? Are we attracted to the dark side? I discovered that we prefer songs with high emotional content and musical complexity. Happy or sad, the emotional content can be very cathartic, releasing our own feelings. I remember going to the opera to see La Boheme and getting equally emotional from the songs when the couple fall in love (your tiny hand is frozen) as when she is dying at the end. We can increase the emotional cleansing by listening quietly with mindfulness.
If catharsis is what I am looking for then any songs will do; providing they stir my emotions, give me relief and leave me with a feeling of peace and transcendence. The songs can be either happy or sad. But if I want to go higher up the happiness scale than peace, then I need songs that make me feel actively cheerful, joyous, excited or in love. My top happiness songs are often tied to my personal associations or memories with that song.
As I developed my own personal happiness playlist, I realised that being a visual person I can increase my happiness by watching the video that goes with the music. Doubtless I will show my age when I mention specifics: I feel the love reflected on his face when Louis Armstrong sings, “It’s a wonderful world”, while Freddie Mercury singing and dancing, “Crazy little thing called love” makes me laugh, because he’s such an outrageous performer. Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” makes me dance alongside all the other amazing people in the video. Other songs don’t have videos but that’s okay, I don’t need them for every song.
Some people might say it’s better to feel all of your emotions rather than suppressing them. I agree, it is important to acknowledge how we feel, but I don’t think it’s healthy to stay there. Dwelling on sadness only breeds more sadness. It is far better to make a deliberate effort to raise your mood and it is not as difficult as you might think. Maybe it’s true that happy people live longer and healthier. It’s not cheating to use music or videos to cheer yourself up or to make you laugh. They can only increase your sense of well-being – which brings me back to another of my favourite songs, “I’m feeling good” by Nina Simone.
What would you put on your happiness playlist?