Recently, I had the opportunity to see my favorite band play live for the first time. For months leading up to the concert, I was super excited—after hearing these songs through my headphones for years, I would finally get to experience them in person. The show completely exceeded my expectations, and after I left the venue late that night, I was positively buzzing with happiness. Throughout the next few days, all I could think about was how amazing the experience was, and I realized it wasn’t the first time I had felt this way after a show. We all know that music can have a major impact on our moods, and now, research is showing just how powerful it can be.
A recent study published by Goldsmith’s University in London compared the health benefits of attending a concert to practicing yoga and dog walking, two activities that are known to improve mental health. The results were somewhat surprising: researchers found that those who went to the concert actually showed the highest gains in mood and well being.
Other researchers have come to similar conclusions. The O2, a company that owns several popular live music venues in the United Kingdom, conducted surveys of concertgoers to see how they felt after leaving a show. Predictably, the vast majority said the experience put them in a good mood, but 10% of participants took it even further and stated that an incredible live show was akin to a “spiritual experience.”
It’s no wonder live music can garner this kind of reaction: you’re not just hearing the songs you love, you’re seeing artists you admire work their magic on stage right in front of you. You can dance and sing your heart out without worrying about looking silly. Plus, you’re surrounded by hundreds of other fans who feel the same way.
Clearly, the experience of seeing a beloved artist perform live often feels like more than a fun night out. But across the board, researchers involved in these studies say that if you want to see long-term benefits, regular concert attendance is key. The good news? Live music doesn’t have to be expensive, and you definitely don’t have to attend massive stadium concerts to have a great time. Many cities and even small towns will host free concert series throughout the year. Plus, you can always catch low-key local bands at restaurants and pubs in your neighborhood. But if you don’t have time to seek out live performances on a regular basis, there is plenty of research showing the benefits of simply listening to recorded music.
The entire field of music therapy is dedicated to strategically using music to help people manage stress and anxiety. Furthermore, listening to recorded music has even been shown to reduce physical pain. This is just one useful method of non-chemical pain management, and it has been shown to be effective at reducing both chronic pain from medical conditions and acute pain during medical procedures. Listening to music can help us feel better both mentally and physically—and there are no negative side effects.
Does it matter what’s on your playlist? Do different tunes translate to different moods? Researchers are seeing mixed results. One study showed that listening to upbeat playlists on a daily basis for just two weeks can have a positive long-term impact on your mood, while listening to sad songs could bring you down if you were already feeling good. However, another study came to a different conclusion. Researchers found that if someone was going through a difficult time, listening to sad songs was actually more comforting to them. Participants reported that it made them feel like someone understood the struggles they were experiencing, and it reminded them that they were not alone.
If you’re feeling a bit down and moody, a positive playlist with your favorite pop songs might give you the boost you need. But if you’re going through a rough patch and feel like you really need a shoulder to cry on, slower, melancholy tracks may actually help you process your emotions. Plus, you can use the right playlist to enhance other mood-boosting activities. A live concert might be even better for your wellbeing than a yoga class, but a yoga class combined with the right playlist and even some chanting can leave you feeling totally reinvigorated.
So the next time you’re wondering if you should really spend the money to see your favorite band, just think of it as an investment towards your mental and spiritual health. After all, that’s just what the science says!
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