THE BLOG

Music: The Natural Mood Enhancer

11/06/2012 09:35 pm ET | Updated Jan 06, 2013
  • Gina Alexandris Senior Director, Law Practice Program at Ryerson University

On a recent drive in to work one morning, fighting traffic, under an overcast grey sky with the rain beating down around, I thought it would be rather difficult for my spirits to lift. As I usually do, I had the radio on as background noise, flipping channels and listening to the banter of the morning show hosts and the music that was playing. With a sigh, I again changed channels... and then a familiar song came on.

Being a kid of the 1980s, entirely unconsciously, a huge smile appeared on my face as I listened to the words of Journey's "Faithfully" fill my car. How quickly my disposition changed, without any attempt on my part, all because of an old familiar song that both brought me back to my high school days and reminded me of the present-day strength of my relationship with my husband. I could not help but reflect on the immense power of music, both the sounds and the lyrics. New friends I had met at a course recently suggested we each "claim" a song to identify with our new learning experience, further reinforcing music's power.

Without much effort, as I continued my drive in that morning in brighter spirits, I thought of the many different emotions that songs can elicit:

Strength, Determination and Smiles: Whenever I need a little reminder of my personal strength, or like to remind others of their own strength, I often turn to Katy Perry's "Firework." The song is uplifting and inspiring... and just plain fun, something we all need from time to time! Another song that brings the same feelings to the surface is Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" (yes, I was a "disco" child!) Be honest -- which woman has not jumped with her girlfriends onto the dance floor (or the middle of the living room) and belted out that song loud and proud! From as early on as a teenager, to just this past summer in my 40s with cousins on the beach in Greece, this song is certain to put a smile on my face and remind me of the power we each have to overcome whatever challenges we face.

Soothing Reflection: This is a very personal choice, some preferring to mellow to the sounds of classical music, others to the vibes of jazz. For me, my go-to music when I need to dial things down a bit in a hectic period or a busy day includes many of the instrumental pieces by Yanni, or songs softly and beautifully sung by Andrea Bocelli or Sarah Brightman (even better when the two sing a duet). Each of these three musicians have the power to take me back instantly to a number of beautiful moments in my life, shared with very special people, and be grateful for those experiences and relationships. As much positive psychology research suggests, gratitude is a positive experience, and music is an easy way to evoke this wonderful benefit.

Comfort in our Sadness: At times of grief or loss, we often turn to favourite songs to help us through. The music and lyrics may not make us smile, and in fact may actually lead to tears, but there is often tremendous comfort in a good cry. To this very day, wherever I am, there is one special song by Canadian singer Celine Dion that always reminds me of my late father-in-law. He was not only my husband's father and my son's grandfather, he was also one of my very best friends. His loss was overwhelming for me, and he will always remain a strong presence in my life, even in his absence. Especially when I hear it unexpectedly -- whether I smile or cry quietly, this song brings back a flood of wonderful memories of someone dear to me.

Physical Movement: How many times have you felt sluggish, only to then hear a tune and start tapping your feet, moving your hips or just plain start hopping and dancing around?! Music has the ability to energize! In one work setting, after particularly stressful times in the office, my friends and colleagues knew that sometimes we just "had" to move around! It became a much-loved annual tradition that at the end of the last day of a term, we would close the office doors, and somebody would find one or more songs from the movie Grease (as a starter) on a computer, and we started to sing and dance -- happily celebrating the successful end of yet another academic term!

Connection to Family History: Without a doubt, any Greek song will instantly remind me of my Hellenic roots, of which I am fiercely proud. Older Greek songs, often with the bouzouki playing, that spoke of the challenges of separation from family and home country were frequently playing in our home as a young child, a reminder of my parents valiant attempt to balance life in a new land with a life they had left behind. Greek waltzes immediately remind me of my father, a man who loves music and dancing and who was my very first and best dance partner, and remains to this day my favourite waltz dance partner! Traditional Greek "wedding dances" will forever now remind me of a hilariously enjoyable evening with my nephew, his fiancée (now wife) and their bridal party... as they visited one night for "dance lessons" before their big day. And as a teen and later an adult, assorted modern Greek pop songs and ballads marked both milestone events and everyday experiences. One such favorite singer's ballads became the lullabies I sang softly to my own son when he was a baby, which he remembers still -- the past connecting, through music, to the future.

These are just some of the examples that I had fun thinking of that morning during my drive Let me know some of yours and enjoy the process.

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