Are you going to a live music event this weekend?
Maybe you should. For a new study from Australia has found that people who go dancing or to other live musical events tend to report higher levels of something psychologists call subjective well-being, but which the rest of us generally refer to as plain ol’ happiness.
Yes, yes. I realize this finding may be pretty obvious (“duh!”), but I thought it interesting, nevertheless. Psychologists (and others) are trying to figure out how music can be best used to treat depression, anxiety and other mood-related disorders.
And, hey, maybe you’ll be able to use this study’s findings to persuade your spouse, partner or friends to go with you to, say, the Square Lake Film and Music Festival in Stillwater this weekend.
It’s worth a try.
For the study, researchers from Deakin University near Sydney, Australia — psychologist Melissa Weinberg and music professor Dawn Joseph — analyzed data collected from 1,000 people who participated in the 2014 Australian Unity Wellbeing Index, an ongoing study that’s designed to monitor the subjective well-being of the Australian population.
Each year, the survey focuses on a “special topic,” and in 2014 that topic was how people engage with music.
So, in addition to responding to questions that assessed their satisfaction with life and their level of personal well-being, participants were asked a series of yes/no questions about how involved they were in musical pursuits — whether or not they listened to music, played an instrument, sang, danced, created or composed music, and/or attended musical concerts, theater or events.
If the participants sang, danced or played an instrument, they were also asked if they typically did so alone or in the company of others.
After crunching all that data, Weinberg and Joseph found that the survey participants who actively engaged in music — particularly through dancing and attending concerts — tended to report a higher level of general happiness than those who didn’t.
People who hit the dance floor or went to concerts regularly were, for example, more likely to be satisfied with their achievements in life, their relationships and their community than their peers who did neither of those things.
The dancers were also more likely than non-dancers to be happy about their health — not surprising, perhaps, given that dancing involves a physical component that may lead to a better perception of health.
In addition, the concertgoers expressed greater satisfaction than non-concertgoers about their standard of living. That finding is also not surprising. As Weinberg and Joseph note, “In Australia, attending musical events is costly, and may be a privilege afforded to those who earn a higher income.”
The data also suggested that the communal aspect of music seems to be a major factor in its positive effect on happiness.
People who said they sang or danced with others scored higher on many aspects of subjective well-being than those who reported engaging in those musical activities alone. Interestingly, this was not true for people who played a musical instrument. Whether performing alone or with others, their general happiness scores remained the same.
The study comes with all sorts of caveats. To begin with, it was an observational study, so it doesn’t prove that active engagement with music — in any form — improves happiness. Other factors may explain the results: For example, people who dance and go to concerts may be healthier than their peers, and that better health, not the music, may explain their greater satisfaction with life. The study also didn’t collect data on the frequency of the participants’ musical experiences. Nor did it differentiate between people who are musically talented and those who aren’t.
Still, the study adds to a great deal of existing research that has found that people use music as a way of regulating their emotions and mood.
“The insight gained from these findings can be used to inform future interventions and to better understand how music is involved in emotional regulation,” write Weinberg and Joseph.