You should… have some healthy alternatives for self-medicating your mental health. I find there is nothing better than music.

How Music Affects Your Emotions Directly

# 23 on my 99 Life Tips–A List is: Music bypasses your thoughts to affect your emotions directly. It is unique among art forms for this quality as far as I’ve discovered. Take care then, what you are inviting to stir your emotions.


Music affects emotions and brain responses in emotional centers regardless of lyrical content, or whether the pieces are solely instrumental. There is a body of brain imaging and clinical proof that music bypasses your thoughts to affect your emotions directly.

This topic is worthy of a book or a doctoral thesis on its own. I will limit my commentary to calling your attention to the facts stated. Of note is that one study linked above showed that hearing sad music provoked some people to deeper levels of sadness.

“… the study found that for some people, sad music can cause negative feelings of profound grief.”

 ~ Memorable Experiences with Sad Music—Reasons, Reactions and Mechanisms of Three Types of Experiences published in Plos One

Emotions usually spring from thoughts

Emotions usually arise as the products of thoughts, and independent of willing them into existence. A person can choose to be happy, but cannot by willing it, make it so directly. One cannot will happiness. One must first think happy thoughts… or listen to happy music. Music affects your emotions directly, not needing the mind to act as conduit.

I am listening to jazz by Art Pepper as I write this. This is the first time I’ve immersed myself in an hour of his playing. I am familiar with him as a jazz musician only because I’ve read references to him in some Barry Eisler books, and I’ve heard snippets of tunes while watching the Bosch detective series derived from Michael Connelly’s novels. (You can stream Bosch on Amazon Prime Video).

Having no familiarity with Pepper’s music, I am enjoying his fluid, sensual, upbeat, even cheerful jazz clarinet and saxophone as the perfect accompaniment to writing. There is nothing melancholy or depressing about it. It is urgent and energetic—sometimes staccato, phrased like well punctuated sentences. He plays woodwinds the way a hummingbird flies, darting here and there—never still for long. There is nothing angry, and certainly no rage. I find myself carried along, fully engaged with the virtuosity of expression, the coolness of style that draws me in like a whisper rather than repelling me like a shout.

Ray Bradbury said the best jazz musicians play as if they don’t believe in death. An hour or so in and I know Pepper is an unbeliever, too. Listening to him I don’t believe in death, either. Rather, I feel smarter, more sophisticated and cosmopolitan—more vibrant and alive. It would be the perfect soundtrack for a dinner party, or an art crawl. Perhaps to serenade a gathering of happy, comfortable friends as they sample wines, cheeses, and chocolates. I like it. It makes me feel good and I will add Pepper’s jazz to my rotation.

You have your favorite music. Ask yourself what it does for you. How does it make you feel? Do you have a “go to” band or song?

Music as mental health medicine

I have a life-rule not included on my 99 Life Tips list, but it would easily be the hundredth tip. Never, ever drink when you’re down. That, too, is a story in its own right. You should, however, have some healthy alternatives for self-medicating your mental health. I find there is nothing better than music. The studies linked above cite the therapeutic value of music as well. Music affects your emotions. Just take care to recognize which emotions you’re inviting yourself to feel when you make your choice of music to listen to.

“Dear Mr. Fantasy, play us a tune

Something to make us all happy

Do anything, take us out of this gloom

Sing a song, play guitar, make it snappy

You are the one who can make us all laugh

But doing that you break out in tears

Please don’t be sad, if it was a straight mind you had,

We wouldn’t have known you all these years”

~Traffic: Dear Mr. Fantasy

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