Let the Spirit Move You

Let the Spirit Move You

Listening to music may be the ultimate mood enhancer. For an extra kick, sing along and even dance.

Consider: rock concert fans dancing in ecstasy, a church congregation clapping along to a gospel beat, an audience’s spirits soaring to the rafters during a symphony. Such mood enhancers needn’t be occasional or come only with the price of a ticket. You don’t have to be in a concert hall to consciously use music to lift you out of despair or connect to your highest self.

If you are coping with the challenges of everyday life—perhaps a tough day at work, the stress of parenting, a fight with your spouse, music can help you work through complex feelings. If you are managing depression, anxiety, or chronic pain, it can uplift you, or even help you have a great cry. Many a breakup has been punctuated by Gloria Gaynor’s “I will Survive,” after all.

Lyrics are the key. Song lyrics have great power to influence our feelings. The secret may be found in the psychotherapeutic practice of cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. While cognitive behavioral sounds technical and a little intimidating, it simply means “thinking and acting.” CBT therapists have shifted away from the venerable Freudian methods of exploring the unconscious and early-childhood experiences; instead, they focus on what we think and do on a daily basis. They argue, and research demonstrates, that thoughts influence our attitudes. When we interrupt negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones, we can improve our mood, explains Dr. David Burns in his classic book, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy. It may sound simplistic, but it works.

One way to interrupt or work through negative thoughts is to listen to music with life-affirming lyrics; in other words, Marilyn Manson is probably not a great choice if you’re feeling despair and hopelessness. If you find yourself sad or anxious, pick out one of your favorite songs with positive words, play it, listen, and try to embody the spirit of the song. Don’t multitask: focus on the lyrics and the melody. If you are so inclined, sing along or move your body. If you are self-conscious about your voice, repeat the words in your mind as you listen. You will find that heartfelt music can buoy you up and bolster a more positive mindset. In turn, a happier mood can help us cope better with negative emotions and circumstances, allow us to problem-solve, and enable us to take action for positive results.

So don’t let your mood get you down. Instead, listen up!

Start a Toe-Tapping Happy Tunes Playlist

“Hold On,” by Alabama Shakes
Singer Brittany Howard’s infectious gospel shouts combine with the complex, interlocking, rocking rhythms of guitar, bass, and drums to preach an irresistible message of determination.
“Evening in June,” by Van Morrison
The Irish bard’s lazy, compelling croon rides on top of a driving beat and funky horns to evoke a summer night of romance.

“Playin’ with My Friends,” by B. B. King
The king of the blues transports you to a rollicking summer party with grilled catfish and smoking blues shuffles.

“Jabuticaba,” by Bebel Gilberto
Gilberto’s singing is so evocative that while listening you can practically taste the juicy white fruit of the jabuticaba tree.

“Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” by Cassandra Wilson
The smoky-voiced Wilson wraps up the listener inside this warm, witty reading of the standard from the 1956 musical My Fair Lady.
“It’s a Good Day,” by Peggy Lee
As the fabulous Miss Lee’s clear voice delivers her funny, clever lyrics, you can feel your spirits lift.

“Thoughts and Prayers,” by Ron Sexsmith
Canadian singer-songwriter Sexsmith’s delicate tenor enters your heart and spreads his love in this tender song.

“Diamond in Your Mind,” by Solomon Burke
The king of rock and soul’s glorious baritone dances with a grooving organ, creating a delightfully surreal jumble of images.

“What a Wonderful World,” by Tony Bennett & k. d. lang
Bennett’s and lang’s voices glide and pirouette together as they sing the lyrics of this ode to the good things in life.

“Won’t You Ride in My Little Red Wagon?” by Willie Nelson
Willie and an all-star band romp through this country swing classic, combining the innocent fun of the lyrics with lightning-fast solos.

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